Developing technical capacity and compassion of doctors is the way to better serve patients – a statement of the World Health Organization on the occasion of the 63rd anniversary of Viet Nam Doctor’s Day

27 February 2018

Viet Nam Doctors’ Day and health achievements in the country

Over the past two decades, Viet Nam has made significant progress in health as the country moved from a low to lower middle-income country. Life expectancy has increased from 67.6 in 1980 to 76 in 2015. The overall incidence of communicable diseases as well as maternal, infant and under-five mortality rates have continued to decline, and access to improved water sources and sanitation facilities has increased. The basic health indicators are better than those of other countries in the region with the same level of development.

The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges that the dedication of Viet Nam doctors working in grassroots healthcare facilities has made these achievements possible.

On the 63rd anniversary of Viet Nam Doctors’ Day, WHO would like to express our appreciation to all doctors and other health professionals, who work tirelessly to improve the health of the Vietnamese people, across the entire country. Since Ho Chi Minh’s letter was sent to medical workers in Viet Nam on 27 February 1955, Viet Nam has marked this day as National Doctors’ Day to recognize the contribution of doctors and those who work in the health sector to improving the health of individuals and communities.

Viet Nam is facing both remaining and emerging challenges

Despite Viet Nam’s achievements, disparities in health outcomes persist across regions and populations, with the poor, ethnic minorities and those living in hard to reach areas being left behind. Maternal mortality rates, for example, are twice as high in rural areas and three times higher among ethnic minority groups than among the Kinh.

Viet Nam is also facing new challenges, with a complex burden of disease. Non-communicable diseases comprise nearly three quarters of the total disease burden, and this is set to increase further with the rapid ageing and increasing urbanization of the population as well as industrialization.

In addition, the country continues to face with ongoing public health threats and outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases, vaccine preventable diseases, environmental health hazards and food borne diseases.

Universal Health Coverage (UHC): a goal to address these challenges

All people should have access to quality health services where and when they need them, and without suffering financial hardship. It is the core of health-related sustainable development goals, Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Viet Nam’s vehicle for attaining the goal of UHC is a strengthened primary health care (or grassroots) system.

WHO recognizes that the Government of Viet Nam has taken important steps to strengthen its grassroots health care system in order to achieve the goal of UHC. Its commitment to this goal is clearly reflected in the newly endorsed 2017 Communist Party Resolution on People’s Health Protection, Care, and Improvement (Resolution 20). The Resolution rightly pointed out that improving grassroots health care is the fastest, most equitable, and most economical way to protect and improve health. It is clearly reflected in the topic of Doctors’ Day this year: “Strengthening grassroots health care system – towards Universal Health Coverage.”

What Vietnamese doctors can do

At the core any health system are its doctors and other health personnel. The health system works through its doctors to achieve its goal of protecting and promoting the health of the entire population. A well-performing health workforce exists when there are an adequate number of competent, responsive and productive health professionals, fairly distributed across the country.

Doctors and other health personnel are therefore at the core of Viet Nam’s efforts to achieve the goal of UHC. The Government, with support from WHO and other partners, is committed to strengthening the capacity of grassroots healthcare workers. Viet Nam is now working hard to make sure the primary health care system can provide the quality care the population needs and will trust, by building the capacity of commune health station doctors, expanding their scope of work, and promoting a change the way that care is delivered, based on the principles of family medicine.

Ho Chi Minh’s letter pointed out that besides strengthening technical capacity, medical workers also need to develop compassion for patients who have entrusted health and life in the hands of the doctors who care for them. This important message rings true today, and underpins the drive towards more integrated care that puts people at the centre, and sees a patient not just as the health problem they present but as a person who is part of a family, a community.

When doctors and other health professionals see and care for patients in this way, they build trust which helps to increase utilization of health services provided at the grassroots level. This is the most effective and efficient way to improve the health of the nation.

WHO – across all levels of the Organization – is strongly committed to supporting Viet Nam to strengthen its grassroots network and to implementing the family medicine approach at the commune level. We remain convinced that a strong grassroots network is Viet Nam’s vehicle for attain the aspirational goal of UHC.

Dr. Kidong Park
WHO Representative in Viet Nam