Doctor Nguyễn Trung Cấp, head of the Emergency Department at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
As communities around the world grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors and nurses have been on the front lines, working around the clock to help treat patients and contain the spread of the virus.
Doctor Nguyễn Trung Cấp, head of the Emergency Department at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases, where more than 100 COVID-19 patients have been treated, talks to Việt Nam News about how he and his colleagues are fighting the virus.
Can you give us an update on the health of patients being treated at the hospital?
As of April 15, we have isolated and conducted screening of 2,110 suspected cases. There were 142 positive patients being treated, of which 81 have recovered and been discharged.
Among the patients we treated, we also had 14 patients in very severe conditions, including five patients on ventilators and one of them on ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation). But fortunately, among serious patients, many patients have improved. Eight patients are recovering, three out of five cases on ventilators have been weaned from the machine, and the two others who are still on ventilators have passed the critical phase.
What has Việt Nam's biggest success in COVID-19 prevention and control been?
I think that the greatest success in this battle is that we remarkably controlled the spread of the epidemic into Việt Nam. Although we are very close to China and trade activities between the two countries are abundant, we have been able to prevent the epidemic from making a huge outbreak in Việt Nam. That’s what helped the health sector avoid being overloaded and society has had time to prepare for what might come next.
We were affected by the pandemic rather early compared to other parts like Europe or the US, while our health care system, to be honest, lacks many things compared to those developed countries. But it was fortunate that we quickly became aware of the risks and conducted aggressive steps to control the pandemic.
The result is that we have timely restrained the disease’s spread in term of speed and scale. Up to this point in time, we have not been overloaded and we have not had to experience a total collapse of the treatment system like in many other countries.
There are reported shortages of personal protective equipment in many countries. What’s the current situation at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases?
We have made quite proper preparation and now the number of patients with COVID-19 at the hospital is about 100, so there is no shortage of personal protective equipment like in some parts of the world.
However, plans can be prepared and facilities can be only sufficient to meet a certain scale of a pandemic. If we implement good community-based disease control, limit the number of patients, the hospital will be able to cope with the situation. But if the epidemic prevention in the community is not good, which can lead to a high increase in the number of patients, exceeding the capacity of hospitals, at such a point, we will lack everything.
During the course of treatment, what difficulties did the doctors encounter?
Our biggest difficulty when facing this disease is that it is a new disease and our understanding of it is limited. For the first patients, we had to set up a treatment regimen based on our experience and existing knowledge, as well as knowledge from other similar or related diseases such as SARS, influenza and a few studies by foreign colleagues.
But after treating a few patients, we gained certain knowledge and experience. In addition, many studies of colleagues around the world have started to produce brighter pictures of COVID-19 pathology. This has improved the treatment regimen and made it more consistent with the understanding of this pathology and reality in patients.
The second difficulty is that COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease. Therefore, ensuring safety for health workers is also extremely difficult. And sadly, two doctors at the hospital were infected when treating patients.
However, after a period of time, we have improved our skills to prevent on-the-job infections, as well as improved the use of protective equipment, so that there have been no more on-the-job infections.
What do you think of the support the Government and the people have given to the health sector?
Since the beginning of the epidemic, we have received much attention and support from everyone in society, both physically and mentally. The Government has provided us with good working conditions and colleagues have been supporting us in term of professional knowledge sharing.
Individuals and organisations have also been very generous in donating protective equipment and sending us presents and their encouragement. That has given us more strength to continue this battle.
Can you tell us a bit more about preparations for different scenarios of pandemic development, given the fact that we have seen community transmission?
So far we have taken steps to prepare for worse situations such as more than 1,000 or 10,000 patients. But the capacity and resources of our health system are limited, so it would be difficult to respond to situations with hundreds of thousands of patients like in Italy or the US. Therefore, we hope that every citizen will continue to strictly follow the guidelines on social distancing so that the disease does not break out beyond the ability of the health sector.
And even though our health system is ready, everyone should take care of their own health and safety, think of the community and work together to control the disease together with the health sector.
The fight against epidemics is not only the job of the health sector. The Government has been working on scenarios and proper instructions and preparations. We also have a mechanism for inter-sector co-operation in pandemic prevention and control. Many companies have started to work on manufacturing ventilators and protective equipment.
The Ministry of Health has also sketched out plans for worse situations. Hospitals have prepared equipment, machines, medicines, protective materials and also training for doctors at all levels.
What is your biggest hope now?
I really wish everyone would raise their awareness about community health and we need every single person to comply with the Government's anti-pandemic regulations and the Ministry of Health’s practices for infection prevention. If every one of us can do that properly, we’ll be able to contain COVID-19 more effectively and return to normality soon enough. — VNS