PATH and our partners are testing new strategies to help Vietnam address hypertension. Photo: PATH/Matthew Dakin.
An innovative, cross-sector partnership tests new ways to battle hypertension
Quietly, over many years, silent killers were stalking Quynh Van Nguyen and his wife, Lien Thi Dinh. They didn’t realize it until it was nearly too late.
Quynh sometimes felt his face burn or his head pound with debilitating headaches. For years, he assumed that was the price he paid for drinking with colleagues after work in Hanoi, Vietnam. In the Vietnamese business culture, social drinking with friends and business associates is both expected and encouraged.
Meanwhile, his wife, Lien, wondered why her joints hurt. She felt run down and struggled to control her weight or find the energy to enjoy time with their family.
During one of their infrequent visits to the doctor for checkups, the couple was surprised to learn the news: Quynh was suffering from uncontrolled high blood pressure, or hypertension, and Lien had high cholesterol.
Left untreated, these chronic conditions put the couple at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Raising awareness of a health threat
In fast-modernizing Vietnam, one-third of those living in urban areas have hypertension. Yet fewer than half are aware of it, and only about one in ten has brought it under control.
Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes are now the leading causes of death in Vietnam. PATH/Matthew Dakin.
PATH is collaborating with Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, the Novartis Foundation, Lotus Impact, and the Hanoi School of Public Health on an innovative, public-private partnership model to improve hypertension control and management.
The Communities for Healthy Hearts project aims to raise awareness of hypertension and bring state-of-the-art strategies for blood pressure control to Vietnam—while potentially informing the way other countries address this health threat.
Modern-day technologies for better health
The project combines technical and financial support from the Novartis Foundation with the government of Vietnam’s commitment to addressing chronic diseases.
Using social media, digital health technology, and social enterprises such as online doctors, our approach aims to:
- Increase awareness, patient engagement, and demand for blood pressure screening.
- Improve service quality and availability, from prevention and early detection to treatment and follow-up in Vietnam’s public and private health care systems.
- Strengthen referrals and empower patients with new ways to manage their conditions, connect with health care providers, and stick with their treatment plans.
Reaching people with an urgent message
People with chronic health conditions like hypertension often don’t have noticeable symptoms until very late. Monitoring and follow-up care is especially important, yet only about 3 in 10 Vietnamese have regular health checkups.
Better awareness and disease management tools could help people like Quynh recognize the signs earlier, seek treatment, and manage their conditions on their own.
We are working with Lotus Impact, a local impact investment fund manager, to engage social enterprises in Ho Chi Minh City—including telemedicine providers and mobile screening clinics—to create new ways for people to access prevention, early detection, and referral services.
A shared sense of urgency
In partnership with local media and telecommunications companies, we will use social media, television, and web-based platforms to reach patients, clinicians, pharmacists, and wellness providers to create a shared sense of urgency about this health threat.
Social media communications and digital health tools are among the strategies we’re using to call attention to hypertension. PATH/Matthew Dakin.
Digital health tools will allow patients to register their mobile phones with health care providers to receive information and support in monitoring and managing their blood pressure.
And we will work with provincial health authorities to strengthen community-based treatment and referral services. New technologies and training approaches will help health workers in low-level clinics integrate services for hypertension.
What we learn will be used to provide evidence that decision-makers can use to scale up high-quality hypertension services across Vietnam, where hypertension leads to more than 90,000 deaths a year.
A lifestyle makeover
Quynh, age 62, and Lien, age 61, took a hard look at their diets and lifestyle when they received their diagnoses. The couple has six grandchildren, including new twin girls. “Of course, we want to be here for our kids!” Lien said.
They cut down on the amount of rice they eat—no more than one bowl per meal—and switched from white rice to brown and red rice that costs twice as much but is more nutritious.
They added more vegetables, many from the small garden near their home where they grow basil, taro, papaya, and other produce. And they switched to eating mostly chicken and seafood. “Now I don’t even crave red meat,” Lien said.
“Our health is ours to protect”
Every morning, Lien drinks a homemade protein drink made from a mixture of red, green, and black beans that she grinds herself. For his part, Quynh has given up drinking alcohol, except for a single glass of red wine each day.
“Our health is ours to protect,” said Quynh, who now takes medication to help control his blood pressure. “I’m in better shape now than when I was younger.”
Quynh Van Nguyen checks his blood pressure daily to help manage his hypertension. Photo: PATH/Matthew Dakin.
Quynh’s blood pressure is down from about 170/90 to a consistent 120/80. Lien has lost 8 pounds, and blood tests show her cholesterol level has dropped.
“I feel lighter, and it’s easier to work,” she said. “Now I tell people if they’re fat, they should lose weight and change their diet.”
The double burden of disease
Rising incomes and lifestyle changes are fueling a sharp rise in chronic diseases—now the leading cause of death in Vietnam—even as many low- and middle-income countries continue to struggle with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV.
The Vietnamese government’s commitment to improving health outcomes for those with chronic diseases—along with private-sector investment, new technologies, and innovative ways to harness them for better health—offers a promising path forward that may help other countries in their battle against these silent killers.