Vigilance necessary in pandemic fight

April 28, 2021 | 08:00
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Vietnam’s healthcare sector has entered a new history of development with the occurrence of COVID-19. Dr. Kidong Park, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Vietnam, writes about how global partnerships can sustain the efforts and the role of corporate social responsibility in sustainable development of the healthcare sector.
1541 p32 vigilance necessary in pandemic fight
Dr. Kidong Park, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Vietnam

Vietnam has mounted a successful response to the pandemic, which has been globally acknowledged. The government and partners are sustaining these efforts and making sure we do not let our guard down. The country’s successful response is a product of long-term investment in health security, highlighted by three main factors.

First was the early and timely activation of a response system which the country greatly invested in before the pandemic even occurred. Vietnam responded to this outbreak swiftly, proactively, and consistently. Throughout the response, the country has sustained its efforts in early detection, reporting and risk assessment, laboratory testing, thorough public health measures implementation, and communicating risk to the public.

The country established the multisectoral National Steering Committee on COVID-19 response led by high levels of the government. Even at the very early stage of the outbreak, the country already had a national response plan in place, as well as technical guidelines implemented from central to local levels.

There has been persistent and strict application of key outbreak response measures using the core capacities built and strengthened by the country over time. Over the years, the WHO has been supporting Vietnam in developing and enhancing these capacities for managing disease outbreaks and public health emergencies, as required by the 2005 International Health Regulations.

The second factor is the strong government leadership and vision, and rapid mobilisation of resources using a whole-of-society approach. For instance, when a new community transmission case was confirmed in late July 2020 after 99 days with no recorded cases from the community, the country quickly mobilised all the necessary resources. The system to detect and report COVID-19 cases from the field to the central level was also enhanced across the country.

National experts were deployed quickly to the field when the outbreak occurred and where necessary, to support outbreak investigation, laboratory testing and/or case management. Testing capacity was rapidly increased to more than 10,000 tests per day in the field. In addition, field hospitals with a capacity of 1,000 beds were built in a short time.

All of these became possible with the National Steering Committee being central to the command and control governance of the COVID-19 response.

Thirdly, there have been comprehensive and credible communications. The government actively engages the media and provides them with timely, clear, accurate, and consistent information. Transparency and consistency in messaging has also bred trust, and this trust has brought the people to also do their part in the response.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) and the WHO co-produced a documentary on Vietnam’s success story. I highly recommend watching the film that features the efforts of the government and the people of Vietnam, with support from the WHO and other partners, in achieving initial victory against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WHO is a long-term public healthcare partner of the Vietnamese government. We have been working closely with our counterparts even before the pandemic in making sure systems and capacities are in place to prepare for, detect, and respond to health emergencies. These investments have been critical to Vietnam’s success, and the government was able to act urgently and consistently as the health sector is prepared to manage a large-scale outbreak.

Over the course of more than a year now, the WHO has worked and continues to work hand-in-hand with the MoH counterparts in providing technical, operational, and logistical support in all aspects of the response, especially in surveillance, risk assessment, clinical management, laboratory, public health measures, risk communication, and logistics.

As part of the global effort for equitable and affordable vaccine allocation, the WHO is working with partners in the COVAX Facility to bring vaccines to the country. On April 1, Vietnam received its first shipment of over 811,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped via the COVAX Facility, with support from the WHO, UNICEF, and the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. An additional shipment of over 3.36 million doses is expected by the end of May, followed by more later in the year.

Rollout of these vaccines is ongoing in Vietnam and we are optimistic that these vaccines will benefit more frontline workers and high-risk populations. The WHO will continue to work alongside our counterparts to make sure these vaccines benefit those who need them the most.

Although the outbreak is controlled in Vietnam, the world still continues to fight the pandemic. We have reaffirmed our lesson in pandemic response that no country is safe until all countries are safe. Therefore, the risk remains high for Vietnam.

Vietnam’s healthcare sector can greatly benefit from all partners working together, including the private sector through corporate social responsibility. We need to remain vigilant. It is required to further strengthen capacities of surveillance and risk assessment, laboratory network, compliance of appropriate infection prevention control, and ensure case management and risk communications in order to support early detection and response to COVID-19.

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