PROFESSOR DANG VAN DUONG: COVID-19: National Unity and Solidarity: Lessons learnt from Vietnam

In Vietnam up until April 3rd 2020 there have been 233 cases of COVID-19, with no deaths. Complete recovery has been observed in 85 cases.

A physician friend in Australia has asked me to try to explain our success to date as Vietnam has been considered by the international community as one of the best countries in the efforts to control the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease. In brief here is my attempt at an explanation.

The first reason is that the Vietnam government took appropriately drastic measures to prevent the risks of spread of the disease in timely manner from the very beginning when the outbreak of disease in China became known. These measures were begun by the end of December, 2019. With the statement “We have to prevent and control the widespread epidemic exactly like we would fight the enemy”, the government successfully motivated the whole nation to be involved in launching the campaign to prevent stopping the outbreak. Long before the WHO had declared a pandemic, our government had in place all the interventions that were going to be required according to any situation that developed. Thus when the pandemic was declared, Vietnam was well prepared and had already implemented the effective measures of quarantine, isolation and social distancing.

To be able to successfully implement these interventions, the government took early measures to increase the community’s awareness of the virus and thereby encourage involvement and participation in prevention activities. Vietnam has a very good primary health care system from central levels to grass-root levels. Using this system, and with the involvement of many health care providers and health care volunteers, great efforts were made to visit our people in the ways that our Prime Minister advised; “let us come to every hamlet, every lane to knock the doors of every household”. This enabled us to identify persons at high risk of contamination (i.e. F1, F2, F3, etc.) and to tell people about the seriousness of the pandemic and how to prevent and control the disease. This was in addition to the communication through mass media and, by these means, the community’s awareness was raised to remarkable levels. At the same time, the community visits helped to reduce fears and the risks of panic.

However, all such efforts could not have been effective without the support and active involvement of the Vietnamese people. Dalia Research Organization in Berlin, Germany, recently conducted a worldwide survey of 45 different countries and regions. Their findings showed that 62% of Vietnamese people appreciated the Government’s policies in this campaign, the highest rate found. Once again, our national unity and solidarity has been highlighted and this has played a very important role in the mobilization the national resources, especially in countries which are still limited in resources like Vietnam.

Regarding community attitudes, culture and social behaviors should also be considered. A very good example is the use of facial masks. In Vietnam and many other Asian countries, the use of facial masks is not only encouraged but is compulsory during the pandemic period. Our people are self-conscious and happy to wear the facial masks. Everybody here considers that this measure is helpful while it seems that many western people still don’t think like that. This may be changing as some westerners have recognized that their disregard for or even discrimination against the wearing of facial masks should be changed. Social distancing is a new approach for the Vietnamese people; however when it was declared to be applied on nationwide, most people were immediately accepting of it.

When I was a boy, my father taught me English and read the English story “Three men in a boat” to me. Now, we, all people over the world, are in the same boat to overcome the crisis of the corona virus pandemic, and we talk and share the experience.

Professor Dang Van Duong is Professor of Pathology at the Vietnam National University, Hanoi. He has been the coordinator in Vietnam for the Australia Vietnam Medical Foundation (Hoc Mai Foundation) for 20 years and supervises University of Sydney medical students doing an elective term in Vietnam.

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