We can learn from Vietnam how to fight pandemics like Covid-19

Crew members clad in a protective suit as a preventive measure against Covid-19 serve passengers on a Vietnam Airlines flight on March 18. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • A national steering committee for Covid-19 control was promptly established and it developed a multi-sectoral response plan.

With even the wealthiest countries struggling to stop its spread, Covid-19 had led to more than 10.5 million infections and 511,000 deaths by the end of last month. However, with not a single confirmed Covid-19 death to date, Vietnam’s approach offers useful insights to other countries, especially those with limited resources.

The coronavirus outbreak hit Vietnam in late January. Sharing a 1,400-kilometre border with China — from where Covid-19 originated late last year — the Southeast Asian country was thought to be highly vulnerable, what with its busy cross-border travel and trade, a large population of 97 million and a lower-middle-income economy. However, while many countries have seen their numbers soar, Vietnam has only had 355 confirmed cases (142 imported) with 335 recoveries so far.

As soon as the first case was detected, the government recognised Covid-19 as a major threat and took precautions above and beyond the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.


A national steering committee for Covid-19 control was promptly established and it developed a multi-sectoral response plan.

As many other governments debated their health and economic choices, Hanoi made an unequivocal decision to prioritise the latter. Knowing that the national healthcare system could not cope with a massive wave of admissions to hospital, it took drastic measures, capitalising on its 2003 Sars experience.

Vietnam was one of the first countries to halt passenger flights from high-risk areas and to quarantine international travellers. Testing is conducted on passengers arriving from high-risk countries at the entry points, quarantine centres and during their exit. This was expanded to hotspot communities and at risk settings such as wholesale markets and industrial zones.

At least 110 laboratories across the country can perform real-time polymerase chain reaction testing for Covid-19 diagnosis with a capacity of 27,000 samples per day. The National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology can culture and cultivate the Sars-Cov-2 virus early, enabling domestic institutions to produce testing kits.

Localised centres for disease control and preventative healthcare facilities collaborate with hospitals in case detection, isolation and treatment. Confirmed cases, considered “tier one”, must be isolated and treated in health facilities.

Home-based isolation of confirmed cases is not allowed, so as to prevent transmission to family members.

Just like in Kenya, the Ministry of Health informs the public of positive cases and potential exposure and provides guidelines for disease prevention, such as a call to public compliance with the precautionary measures.

Vietnam’s relative success is the result of persistent efforts in pandemic preparedness, which should be replicated elsewhere.

Laura Ajiambo, Busia