Health Care in Vietnam - An introduction to the system




Vietnam is currently overhauling its flawed health care system that has been in place since the late 1980s, alleviating the financial burden that is currently placed on individuals.


The current average life expectancy in Vietnam is 76 years of age, but unfortunately, many Vietnamese people still suffer from the consequences of the Vietnam war, which took place during the 1960s. The biological weapon, agent orange, not only killed land crops, but also came into contact with the human body through contamination of water. It is not uncommon for Vietnamese women to have miscarriages or children born with disabilities due to this chemical.


Healthcare undergoing overhaul


The Vietnamese government currently only invests 0.9% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the healthcare system. This only serves, roughly, 30% of the population. Thus, most Vietnamese citizens have to pay for private health care visits themselves.


This has prompted a change that is set to be effective as of 2014. The aim is to have every citizen covered under the government health care system, even if they decide to purchase further private care or coverage in addition. The plan is being modelled on a plan from neighbouring Thailand, and should help to reduce the deficit of health care available between urban and rural areas.


Health services available


The quality and availability of health services varies dramatically on whether you are in the city or in rural areas.


The health care available in Vietnam is below that which is available in surrounding countries. In fact, health care facilities in Vietnam are among the worst in Asia due to a general lack of funding by the government in the health sector.


The majority of hospitals and clinics are located in the larger cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hai Phong. There is also a difference between the healthcare available in cities and that available in rural areas. It is nearly impossible to get a specialist or important care in rural areas, as hygiene standards are not on the same level as what is offered in the cities. With the planned reforms to be implemented in 2014, the whole of Vietnam should profit from a higher standard, especially in the rural areas where funding is desperately needed.


Current state of hospitals


Vietnam suffers from hospital overcrowding, leading to the reformations taking place.


There is a mixture of private and state owned clinics and hospitals in Vietnam, where prices vary, and some medical establishments have above average care. However, these hospitals often specialize in a certain treatment.


Hospitals in the cities suffer from daily overcrowding, with Ho Chi Minh City being worst affected. Currently there is simply too little personnel and equipment to serve demand. In 2000, the whole of Vietnam only had 250,000 hospital beds, which equated to 14.8 beds per 10,000 people. It is also common for doctors to work for both private and state owned hospitals, due to the lack of personnel. Pediatric wards suffer the most from the overcrowding problem according to the Australian government's advice  on those travelling to Vietnam. The reform to health care should alleviate the load that hospitals in cities have to bear. Under the reform, the city targets 5,500 more hospital beds and 15 doctors for every 10,000 people.


Health care in Vietnam is strengthened by national health care programmes, such as Vietnam National Tuberculosis Control Programme (NTP), provided for treating tuberculosis,  a widespread disease in Vietnam. The majority of doctors are based in a hospital and can be accessed easily in cities, but the problem once again arises if one is living in a rural area, where you may have to travel to the nearest city to see a doctor.


If travelling to or staying in a city in Vietnam, expats should not worry. While a large proportion of health care is not up to western standards, hospitals in the cities will cater to a predominantly expat demographic. These hospitals have staff from all over the world and will accept international health insurance.

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