Celebrating 35 years of innovation in Vietnam

December 7, 2015 by Ramona (Mona) Byrkit, MPH

PATH's long-standing country program is committed to helping Vietnam tackle its changing health needs.

A group of people standing in front of a large Facebook screen.

Our new Healthy Markets initiative is helping Vietnam move toward HIV elimination. Photo: PATH/Matthew Dakin.

When I arrived in Vietnam as PATH’s country program leader in 2009, the country was in the middle of an extraordinary transition from a low-income country with pervasive poverty and daunting health needs to one of the world’s most vibrant emerging economies.

The country’s new status as a lower-middle-income country opened the doors to both new opportunities and new challenges as the government began stepping up domestic spending on health and international donors began pulling out of Vietnam to focus on countries with greater needs and fewer resources.

“Read this post in Vietnamese • Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt”

PATH in Vietnam has grown and changed right alongside this dynamic country, where we have operated longer than in any of the 70-plus countries where we work.

From our original focus on improving access to family planning, PATH’s work has expanded to include a broad array of innovations and partnerships to address HIV, tuberculosis (TB), noncommunicable diseases, digital health tools, vaccine development and delivery, and maternal and child health and nutrition.

Pharmacy with pharmacist at counter serving customer.

We have helped expand the reach of the national TB program and engaged private-sector providers and pharmacists to improve TB diagnosis and control. Photo: PATH/Tom Furtwangler.

A time to celebrate

On December 8, we’re celebrating the 35th anniversary of PATH in Vietnam along with more than 350 invited guests from the Vietnamese government, the business community, community organizations, donors, and other partners.

Speakers—including the US Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Vietnam’s Vice Minister of Health, and PATH’s president and CEO, Steve Davis—will showcase some of the lifesaving innovations we have helped develop and introduce that have reached millions of people across the country.

Midwives watching a demonstration using a teaching model.

Midwives in Vietnam learn how to manage labor, part of our work to strengthen care for new mothers and babies. Photo: PATH/Ngo Thi Than Thuy.

Progress, opportunity in Vietnam

In 1980, PATH began providing technical assistance to the Vietnamese government and facilitating collaborations with regional partners. With a per capita income of less than $100, a fragile economy, and an under-resourced health care system, Vietnam was struggling to modernize and address the significant health needs of its population.

Today’s Vietnam has a per capita income of more than $2,000, an entrepreneurial spirit, and an emerging market that consistently shows strong growth. The percentage of people living in extreme poverty has plummeted from 75 percent in the 1980s to less than 3 percent.

Vietnam met almost all of the targets for the health-related Millennium Development Goals, reducing maternal and child mortality, improving nutrition, and increasing immunization coverage.

PATH has played an important role in this progress. In 1997, we opened our first office in Hanoi with a four-person team. Today, we have more than 50 staff in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and we serve as a regional hub coordinating projects in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos.

We are proud of our contributions in the areas of safe motherhood, vaccine access, and the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. For example, over the past several years, we helped diagnose more than 12,000 cases of TB by expanding the reach of the national TB program and helping the Ministry of Health create policies to engage the private sector in TB control.

Lab tech holding a tray of eggs at the IVAC facility.

PATH is bringing together the public and private sectors to improve access to vaccines, including a locally produced, egg-based influenza vaccine now in development. Photo: PATH/Matthew Dakin.

A trusted advisor, a community partner

PATH is regarded as a longtime, trusted partner of the Vietnamese government and as a convener of partnerships between the public and private sectors to accelerate the development and delivery of innovative new health technologies and approaches.

Many nongovernmental organizations in Vietnam specialize in service delivery at the grassroots level. PATH is distinguished by our work across the spectrum, from the community level to the national level, where we influence policy- and decision-makers to mobilize health resources and scale up what works.

As one of PATH’s first staff members in Vietnam, Dr. Vu Huong has helped set the course for our country strategy.

“We work with public and private partners to build a good business model: how can we do vaccine development or TB case detection better? And then we simultaneously engage with decision-makers to keep them informed of our progress and work with them to scale up innovation,” said Huong, regional technical director for PATH’s Mekong regional program.

Man having his blood pressure and cholesterol checked.

Preventing and managing hypertension and other noncommunicable diseases are new health priorities for Vietnam and a new focus for PATH. Photo: PATH/Matthew Dakin.

Our commitment to Vietnam

Even as infectious diseases remain a significant health threat in Vietnam, a new challenge is emerging. The middle class’s newfound prosperity has led to lifestyle changes and new health issues, including noncommunicable diseases—such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancer—that are now the leading cause of death in Vietnam.

Our new Communities for Healthy Hearts hypertension initiative, funded by the Novartis Foundation, will allow us to test new public-private partnership models and the use of social media and other information technology platforms to address this threat.

We’re excited about what the future holds for Vietnam and how the lessons learned here can be applied to other countries in Asia and beyond. PATH is committed to our ongoing partnership with Vietnam as the country continues its development journey and becomes a hub for innovative solutions that can improve the health of people around the world.