Having dedicated her whole life to science, Professor Ngo Giang Lien still has the same emotions as many years before when recalling her collaboration with fellow scientists from the UK in the fight against malaria in Vietnam, and on her favourite scientific endeavour: breeding mosquitoes.
Colleagues of Professor Dr Ngo Giang Lien, former deputy of the Cell Biology subject group at the National University’s Natural Sciences School, still show admiration when talking about her ground-breaking study on malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. When her project proposal was accepted for funding from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1994, she and her team headed to Khanh Phu Commune in Khanh Hoa Province, a wild and remote forested area and as such a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes with their preference for living around tree stumps and in leaf canopies. There, they caught and bred mosquitoes to study their chromosomes. Their one-week trip was ultimately extended to three months, and the team only came back to Hanoi a couple of days before the Tet holiday.
“I felt so happy during that time” said Lien. “Vietnam was very poor. Without the chromosome methodology, the fight against malaria would have gone nowhere.”
After three months in the jungle, the WHO project was a success, but less so for the team members personally as most developed malaria on their return to Hanoi. Severe headaches and endless hot and cold fevers took their toll on Ngo Giang Lien’s health.
Stunned by the instructor’s courageous sacrifice, British experts from WHO suggested she travel to the UK to learn new approaches to tackling the disease. The British Council did all it could to help her secure prestigious internships with world famous professors specialising in malaria research at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, London University and other UK universities. For the first time, a Vietnamese national gained access to advanced approaches to identifying malaria vectors. Back in Vietnam, Lien took bold steps in setting up training courses on new techniques for researchers from within the country as well as from a number of other countries in the region including Thailand and Indonesia. The training programmes were a resounding success.
“I worked so closely with the British Council as my second home for science. The organisation empowered me to gain access to modern scientific domains, explore advanced techniques and work alongside top experts in my field of research” Professor Ngo Giang Lien said.
After her return home from training in the UK, Lien again worked in partnership with the British Council for well over a decade, and extensively so during the period 2000–2011. The British Council worked with Lien to bring the UK’s foremost experts to Vietnam, delivering training on the latest tropical disease mitigation methodologies and their theoretical foundations. “It was an invaluable partnership, and the British scientists we worked with were absolutely passionate, highly dedicated and always professional,” she said. This close-knit cooperation helped Vietnam get a handle on malaria epidemics. With more than 4,000 people all over the country dying from malaria in 1994, Vietnam is now well in control of the disease and can prevent major outbreaks. Dengue haemorrhagic fever is also substantially mitigated.
As Professor Ngo Giang Lien puts it, the British Council’s influence in this endeavour was huge. She hopes the British Council is here to stay and will continue to help connect the science community in Vietnam with their UK colleagues.
“I want to say my most sincere thank you to the British Council and the British scientists who have been with us every step of the way in the fight against malaria in Vietnam and around the world. Without their help, the struggle to combat malaria in Vietnam would have gone on forever.”