By Thao Le
In the midst of Covid-19, Vietnam was one of the few countries to impose lockdown measures and rapidly build healthcare facilities to prepare for the outbreak. With sincere care for people’s physical health and the government prioritising it over economic development, we were able to control the situation for more than 3 months before the second wave in the end of July 2020. Also, as a result of the pandemic, the country’s concerns for sustainable development, especially social and environmental sustainability, have regained their positions as the top priorities. This article will seek to discuss the various aspects of the Covid-19 situation in Vietnam under the lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, hoping to raise awareness of the circumstances citizens of this small country are facing. SDG 3 Good health and well-being
Since January, we have been practicing social distancing and masks are widely worn in all public spaces before the government’s public announcements. We were the first few countries to mass produce Covid-19 test kits. Anyone currently living in Vietnam, regardless of their nationalities, are immediately tested and treated as soon as they report symptoms such as fever, coughing, and difficulties with breathing. Also, those having to migrate back to the country to receive healthcare, such as Vietnamese study-abroad students like myself and workers, are tested for coronavirus and quarantined at designated facilities away from the community as soon as they arrive at the airports. All are heart-warmingly provided at no cost. Like other international voyagers, when I returned to my country in March 2020, despite not having the virus, I was provided 14 days of quarantine at a military base, to eliminate all risks and protect the whole community. During quarantine, I received lots of care from the medical workers: they measure my temperature twice daily, they give us 3 sumptuous meals per day, they regularly check up on us, making sure that we get plenty of sleep and rest, and an ambulance is sent immediately once someone in the facility shows any signs of Covid-19. In comparison, there are numerous Vietnamese people studying and working in continental Europe, UK, and America who got in dangerous health situations but unable to receive treatment from the host countries. The reasons range from lack of medical equipment, high treatment costs (especially in the US), and sadly, racial discrimination. Therefore, personally, I felt very fortunate and grateful that I was able to return to my homeland and receive so much support. Because the above service is offered to every traveller and resident in Vietnam, we were able to control the number of Covid-19 cases and maintain a zero mortality rate for more than 3 months, accompanied by border closure. Unfortunately, due to illegal immigrants into the country, the number of cases and deaths has risen drastically in the past few days, with an increase of around 10 cases per day. However, we quickly fundraised and managed to build more hospitals in a 72-hour timeframe to accommodate for more patients. I hope that we would be able to contain the second surge while ensuring that social and economic development are maintained. In addition, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health also received 20,000 high-quality surgical masks from the UNDP (UNDP, 2020). Accordingly, the organisation aims to “eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, and build resilience to crisis”. This institutional support demonstrates UNDP’s agreement with the Vietnamese government’s “whole-of-society and whole-of-government approaches” in mitigating the spread of Covid-19. Disregarding the existing controversies around my country’s political regime, I believe that prioritising national health over economic growth should be urged internationally. Apart from physical health, mental health has also been ensured by various stakeholders in Vietnam. UNDP partnered with the Ministry of Health to launch a communication campaign “Spreading the word – #LeaveNoOneBehind” to convey prevention measures via animation (UNDP, 2020). Additionally, with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF Vietnam promoted sharing and caring for others through their “Kindness is Contagious” campaign (UNICEF Vietnam , 2020a). This involved young influencers and celebrities in encouraging kindness, being mindful of each other, and strengthening brotherhood among all citizens. Vietnam was able to control the situation for around 3 months with barely any mental health issue arising, so these two examples of campaigns have certainly been effective.
SDG 1 No Poverty, SDG 2 Zero Hunger, and SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation Although it is not a formal initiative, the Covid-19 outbreak has incentivised lots of donors to set up emergency food banks. Local authorities and businesses strongly support this initiative for ensuring 7.8 million unemployed workers (Nguyen, 2020) and millions of households in extreme poverty get access to food in this difficult time.
The government also demands that the prices of food, basic necessities, and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, face shields, hand sanitiser, etc., are lowered to accommodate for the increase in poverty rate and ensure a stable standard of living.
SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production and SDG 13 Climate Action
As announced by the WHO, surgical masks and face shields are among the most effective measures to prevent the recipient of the coronavirus. My country acknowledges this advice and made wearing masks compulsory in all public spaces. Unlike many countries, Vietnam was able to rapidly meet the demand for more face masks and shields when the outbreak happened. However, this also means a surge in the amount of single-use plastics and non-recyclable items. Therefore, being very adaptable and highly skilled, most clothing manufacturers in Vietnam have recognised the possible environmental damages and moved onto producing hygienic cloth face masks that meet the government’s regulations on sanity. With certified hygienic cloth face masks readily available at a price of around £1 per item, we have been able to save surgical face masks for medical workers and reduce the amount of waste and pollution.
SDG 4 Quality Education
From January to June 2020, we managed to contain the number of Covid-19 patients and zero deaths. During that period, domestically, our lockdown measures are eased, with masks-wearing and social distancing still recommended rather than compelled. Only final-year secondary- and high school- students have returned to schools since May as they prepare for their high school and university entrant exams. Other students remain at home as this is their summer vacation. Nowadays as we are experiencing a second wave with almost 30 deaths per day, lots of cities have returned to lockdown and universities have been preparing for online study in the coming semesters.
SDG 5 Gender Equality
According to CARE (2020) and UN Women Vietnam (2020), Covid-19 has aggravated gender inequality and pressure on women in Vietnam. Firstly, the pandemic led to severe disruptions in the global supply chain, especially the garment and textile sector whose workforce is 80% dominated by female workers. Secondly, women have been assigned additional childcare responsibilities due to school closures. In the informal sector, around 12 million women near the poverty line, namely street vendors, waste recyclers, and domestic workers, have been most affected by the pandemic. Their hourly wage is roughly under 50p, so without employment, making ends meet and caring for their dependants has been almost impossible. Thirdly, like many other countries, the pandemic has led to a considerable rise in online shopping and change in consumer behaviour. In Vietnam, however, the transition to online marketplace has not been smooth. A significant proportion of street vendors are elderly female uncomfortable with smart devices, hence their business operations have unfortunately been suspended. Finally, caring shelters have admitted 2.5 times more women and children in February and March 2020 than 2019 (Phromkade, 2020). These are victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and human trafficking – an issue worsened by unemployment and loss of income due to Covid-19.
SDG 8 Decent work and economic growth
From the above examples, it is evident that the Vietnamese government has devoted a large amount of its budget to fight the coronavirus pandemic. We believe that people’s health should be prioritised at all cost, and sustainable economic development will gravely benefit from a healthy workforce.
SDG 17 Partnerships for the goals
Vietnam has kindly exported over 20,000 Covid-19 test kits and PPEs to its international partners, namely the United States, Austria, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Australia (Van, 2020).
Furthermore, empathising with the severity of violence against women and child in Vietnam due to Covid-19, the Government of Australia and three UN agencies (UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women) have cooperated with the Vietnamese government on an awareness-raising project (UNICEF Vietnam, 2020b). With AUD 2.5 million, the Australian government expects that the overall perception that victims will be provided sufficient care and violence against women and child will be ended via means of communication and education. As the Vietnamese government currently facing major financial difficulties from healthcare spending, this collaboration would surely incentivise the country to devote more attention to SDG 5 and support its resolution.
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