Vietnam’s Healthcare: It’s Not All That Bleak

Health - Saigon/HCMC: Oct. 27, 2016

Although many may disagree, over the past 25 years Vietnam has shown the world that they have made significant improvements in healthcare, and will continue to do so as they develop economically.

The World Health Organization and Forbes have identified several areas where Vietnam has proven to be an example to the world in regards to effective nationwide immunisation, low rate of infantile death, massive improvements in regards to water contamination and access, an extremely high life expectancy rate, and low maternal mortality rates. Let’s have a look at what the expert data says, and see if this opens our eyes to a brighter future for Vietnam’s healthcare.

World Leaders in Vaccination

Despite the abundant amount of tropical, bacterial and viral diseases that Vietnam faces, statistically they have done a remarkable job compared to the rest of Southeast Asia and many other countries abroad in providing nationwide vaccinations to combat threatening diseases. While sitting down for a small chat with Dr. Mason Cobb of Victoria Healthcare, he briefly discussed this topic and shared a bit of professional insight as to why Vietnam has one of highest immunisation rates on the planet.

Photo via Pixabay

He attributes this to excellent quarantine strategies, and extremely strict regulations set in place by the Ministry of Health that require vaccinations for children. From a social standpoint, Vietnam is about as family-oriented as you get, and the protection of their children is of major concern. All of these sound practices have given Vietnam the edge in regards to immunisation and as a result they have been able to witness significant drops in diseases over the past 15 years. According to UNICEF, as of 2012, there is 97% immunisation coverage for hepatitis B, 91% coverage for tetanus, 98% coverage for tuberculosis, 97% for polio, and 96% for meningitis. These rates are staggering considering the overall wealth of Vietnam, and these numbers put many countries to shame.

Vietnam has also set an example for the world in terms of mobilising the population during health promotion campaigns. This was evident during tetanus eradication and Expanded Programme on Immunisation activities.” (World Health Organization)

Low Rate of Infantile Death

Another example of Vietnam’s positive ability to take care of its citizens’ health lies in their extremely low rate of infantile death. This might come as a shock considering their economic situation and lack of modern technology in their hospitals. However, paediatrics is highly valued, as is maternal and infantile welfare, and much is to be said for Vietnam in this regard. In particular, the Ministry of Health has prioritised infantile health and they have made a valiant effort to make improvements in this area. The structure of society demands that women and children be taken care of and the statistics for this area of healthcare are quite favourable.

With a steady decline in maternal mortality, child mortality and malnutrition over the past decades, Vietnam has exceeded expectations for a middle-income country.” (World Health Organization)what

Estimates developed by the UN Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, United Nations Population Division) at have shown that Vietnam has had a massive improvement in child mortality rates. From 1964 to 2015, rates dropped from 95 to 21.7 deaths per 1,000 births. For a shocking comparison we can look at the rates of other developed countries as follows: France 29/1,000, Australia 25/1,000, Canada 33/1,000 and the U.S. with 30/1000. What more needs to be said here?

High Life Expectancy

Another example that Vietnam’s overall healthcare is improving lies in the strong statistics that back the country’s surprisingly high life expectancy. Perhaps hospital care isn’t the most comfortable, but at the end of the day what is important is that you make it out of the hospital alive. Although healthcare is just one element that accumulates with other factors to determine how long one might live, we can’t deny that the statistics clearly prove Vietnam has a higher life expectancy than many countries that have seen much more development.

“Vietnam is still a poor country, ranking 135th in the world in 2013 (according to World Bank data) based on GDP per capita. Still, when compared to its Southeast Asian counterparts, its overall quality of care, in particular for basic primary care, appears surprisingly good.” (PwC Vietnam)

Thailand and Indonesia both have two to three times the disposable incomes, yet Vietnam has exceeded them in life expectancy. But what is Vietnam’s secret, and how have they managed to pull this off with significantly less resources? There could be many possible answers to this question, but according to PwC, a globally recognised company that assists countries with an array of financial, legal or problem solving strategies, this could possibly be attributed to the massive amount of hospitals and beds per citizen. This is another area that Vietnam is very strong in. Although many argue the hospitals are awful and the conditions are poor, we cannot overlook the fact that from a numerical standpoint they have more beds per citizen than almost all other Southeast Asian countries, coming in second only to Singapore. From this standpoint, we must agree that this is quite an admirable feat for such a poor country. The beds might not be the best, but they are there.

Nationwide Water Sanitation Improvement

Yes, there is lots of water contamination and that’s a fact. However, when discussing water, contamination is just one facet of a very complex issue that has many branches. The availability of drinkable water and having access to proper toilet facilities are issues that people often overlook. Just 25 years ago, two out of five people in Vietnam did not have access to acceptable drinking water. In the city, tap water and wells were easy to come by, but 80% of the population lived in rural areas where these were a rarity.

“Today, 98% of Vietnam’s more than 90 million residents have access to improved drinking water sources and 78% of the population uses toilets that meet international standards.” (World Health Organization)

A few decades ago, people had to rely on local streams and rivers for their water source. Three out of five people did not have access to a toilet or similar facility. However, over the past 25 years a lot has changed.

“Use of improved sanitation facilities in Vietnam has more than doubled – from 36% in 1990 to 78% in 2015. And open defecation, where people do not use any form of toilet, has been reduced from 39% to 1% over the same time period.” (World Health Organization)

Whether you agree that Vietnam is doing a good job managing its healthcare or not, the numbers don’t lie. Vietnam is growing and healthcare, like everything else, is in a state of evolution. By looking deeper into the past, we are able to see the present a bit more clearly. Vietnam is without a doubt moving in the right direction and there will be many more momentous changes coming to light in the coming years.