Profile Minh-Ly PHAM-MINH
Profile Minh-Ly PHAM-MINH
Nine…that’s my lucky number since November 2005! Does being with only nine other people bother you? Well, for me it has been the number of people I have spent nine months in an extreme and confined environment, called Antarctica. I was the expedition leader and doctor of the second winter-over at Concordia station, a French-Italian inland station. The most striking facts over there were the extreme cold (our temperature record was minus 80°C and the average around minus 60°C), the surrounding whiteness and the lack of any life (wildlife or neighbours) around us. I was lucky to spend also two summers (before and after my winter over) there to experience the restless scientific activities during this busy period and most of all to travel by “road” back and forth between the French coastal station Dumont d’Urville and Concordia, during the summer 2006-2007. This overland track of more than a thousand kilometres is a small string used as the main supply line of Concordia. Three times during the summer, this unusual caravan made of tractors with caterpillars and snowplough, travels at a slow pace (1000 km in 8 to 10 days, driving 11 hours per day) to deliver fuel and supplies. Being very isolated, a doctor is needed, even if most of the time only for driving and cooking for the crew!
When I left Antarctica by boat, but not even yet a foot on Australian land, I was contacted to join Tara expeditions. Even though it meant only a two months break between two extreme experiences, I could not let go such a lifetime experience. And now again, I have only nine companions on board.
Is nine my limit? No. In 2003-2004, I got a first taste of isolated life, on New Amsterdam, a French sub-Antarctic island. There we were 26 and we got supplies four times a year.
What about my life before these polar experiences? Was I ever a typical general practitioner? Not really. Even during my studies, I felt the urge to leave, and work for nearly a year in street clinics in Calcutta, India. Since then, I shared my time between humanitarian aid work with Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF (Doctors without Borders) and a medical centre, giving advice and immunisation for travellers in Paris, my hometown. With MSF, I have been mostly to war torn countries in Africa (Burundi, Congo, DRC, Tchad) but also in Asia (India and Sri Lanka). My main objectives were to implement basic health care, and organising mass vaccination campaigns (against measles, polio or meningitis). And there, I needed to handle much more people than nine!