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Dec 26, 2022 / 13:36

US, Vietnam can rely on each other: CDC

The long-lasting and intensified partnership has enabled both sides to advance the collaboration, highlighting improving Vietnam’s medical systems and improving universal healthcare.

A senior official of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) affirmed that the partnership in the health sector between the US and Vietnam over the last few years has really shown that the two countries can rely on each other.

 Dr. Eric Dziuban, CDC Vietnam Country Director, at a press conference held at the US Embassy in Hanoi mid-December. Photo: Linh Pham  

“It’s been a few tough years because of the pandemic, but when times are tough, we rely on our friends,” Dr. Eric Dziuban, CDC Vietnam Country Director, has shared the idea with local media.

He noted that the two countries have decades of collaboration on health issues, and some of those are disease-specific programs. Having worked on HIV, tuberculosis (TB), or influenza then others are broader when they work together to strengthen the overall health systems to help national health in Vietnam and global health.

The health expert said the strength of that partnership became so clear during Covid-19. Vietnam gave the US hazmat suits and other personal protective equipment in the early days when the US was hit very hard in places like New York City, and the US donated Vietnam over 40 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines and US$44 million of technical assistance throughout the day.

In August 2021, US Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Hanoi and launched the CDC Southeast Asia Regional Office. Accordingly, the two countries can work not just on their relationship and partnership on health but on Vietnam being positioned as a leader across the region.

Given the importance of confidence, Dr. Dziuban said that the two countries have decades of experience, which shows there’s already trust between them. “There’s already a history of good collaborative work together, and that makes me feel a lot of promise for what can happen next,” he stressed.

Diversified cooperation

Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, the US CDC is working with Vietnamese partners in influenza, dengue fever, medical education, scientific technology, research, preparations for emerging diseases, focusing on children with tuberculosis, and the National CDC development, Dr. Dziuban shared with The Hanoi Times.

Specifically, the two sides have been working together on influenza since 2005 as there’s potential for an influence of pandemics when a new strain of flu comes around, which is why the US agency helps monitor and prevent those.

Meanwhile, the US health experts supported Vietnam to better forecast or understand when there will be large waves of dengue infections and analyze the data for how to respond when the number of cases starts going up.

In terms of medical education, the US Embassy has assisted in different levels and programs through agencies like the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which helps a lot in One Health to ensure human, animal, and environmental health curricula are integrated. In addition, providing expertise is also seen in many training programs to improve the skills of health workers and laboratory diagnostics to stop outbreaks by detecting new pathogens.

Recently, a new collaboration has been started between some of the best medical universities in the US and Vietnam and the government-to-government partnership. 

Among the fields of collaboration, TB appears to be the main one, as Vietnam has a large TB burden, and Covid-19 made things worse. This is an area in the US that has been partnering very closely with Vietnam for almost 20 years, specifically focusing on preventing TB infections, diagnosing new infections when they happen, and getting people on very effective treatment as soon as possible.

Most TB infections are in rural and mountainous areas, causing more difficulties than other health programs. But it demonstrates the US and Vietnam’s efforts to “make sure that people in those communities are not left behind,” stated Dr. Dziuban.

One more thing is that TB treatment coverage for children is lower than for adults, which is so painful to see. “I’m a pediatrician, so knowing that children can be dying of TB – a very treatable disease here in Vietnam – just pains my heart,” he said.

In this regard, both sides will focus a lot on TB and children led by the national TB program, and they’re enthusiastic about some progress they made in 2022.

 CDC Vietnam health workers. Photo: CDC Vietnam 

Broader cooperation in 2023

The year 2023 will see many important events that Dr. Dziuban named “milestones” for both countries. It’s the 10th anniversary of the US-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership and the 25th anniversary of the US CDC establishment in Vietnam.

Therefore, the US CDC will work on health systems to help Vietnam continue identifying new treatment options for TB, increasing vaccine coverage for children and adults throughout the country, and getting sustainable high-impact HIV response, among many others.  

They’re looking at places where HIV progresses and where there are new infections, like the Mekong Delta.

Other priority fields are TB prevention and routine immunizations for other diseases, which have gotten down through Covid-19. The US CDC wants to work with Vietnam to get that coverage up to high levels. “Nobody wants to see new outbreaks of diseases like measles or polio here,” the health expert noted.

Regarding the Covid-19 response in 2023, Dr. Dziuban warned that Covid-19 is still here. Vietnam has a good chance of keeping Covid in a better place, but there’s going to be two key steps for that. First, it needs to continue vaccinations as vaccine immunity wanes over time and keep getting booster shots to raise the level of protection in the community.

In addition, it requires a close watch on different variants as the virus has shown a strong ability to mutate and will act differently than before. In this regard, the US CDC is working closely with Vietnamese partners to see which variants are showing up in Vietnam so they can be ready for what’s next.

Commenting on Vietnam’s Covid-9 response and vaccination, Dr. Dziuban said Vietnam did the hard work to demonstrate that the deadly pandemic is much more manageable. As a result, over 95% of the population is vaccinated, and fewer people are getting very sick from the virus. The health expert also hailed Vietnamese healthcare workers, calling them “heroes” through this pandemic as he has been working with them regarding leadership and response.