lllustration by Trịnh Lập
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
The battle to fight COVID-19 and its variants has entered its third year. Borders have been opened, international flights resumed, the number of domestic tourists rushing to the country's seaside hotels and resorts has flourished, and the number of international visitors in the first half of 2022 has soared to nearly seven times higher than last year.
People still wear face masks in public, and life has bounced back ever stronger for many, but for health workers everywhere, the fight has not ceased.
In July 2021, the Prime Minister launched the most extensive vaccination campaign in history for 75 million Vietnamese people. The campaign mobilised concerted efforts of dozens of thousands of health clinics and establishments, hundreds of thousands of health workers and other supportive human resources across the country.
With a combined effort to receive vaccines from various sources, from Government spending, and the world COVAX mechanism, the vaccination process rolled out as planned to accommodate local resources and the pandemic outbreak of each province or location.
By December 29, 2021, the Health Ministry reported receiving more than 192 million doses. The Government budget paid for close to 97 million doses, and other sources sponsored more than 95 million doses.
By the end of last year, Việt Nam had completed more than 150 million vaccination doses, in which 100 per cent of the population above 18 years of age received at least one dose and 90 per cent got two. The rate exceeded the target level set by the World Health Organization in which 79 per cent of the population received one dose, and 66 per cent got two basic doses.
The Ministry of Health also set a target to complete the booster dose for everyone above 18 by the first quarter of 2022.
But in December 2021, a company that imports testing kits came under fire for price gouging, with the cost up to 20 times the imported price and kickbacks reportedly given to the local Centre for Disease Control in many provinces.
The case went viral in one of the most earth-shattering crises in the health sector in modern memory. High-profile officials were arrested, including a health minister, a mayor of Hà Nội, and more than 70 other people.
They were arrested for their wrongdoing, which pleased the public.
However, the more the case unravelled, the more health workers seemed to lose faith and deserted their jobs, adding to those quitting over too low pay.
On June 29, the Ministry of Health issued a directive to all its departments and agencies acknowledging the enormous efforts of health workers during the COVID pandemic.
"Under the direction of the party committee, government, the health workers have been actively taking part in the prevention and fight COVID-19, shouldering a major part in protecting, taking care and improving the people's health," it said.
"The government and people have highly appreciated the health workers' efforts."
But they have gone through a tough time over the past two years. The number of health workers filing to resign or retire has never been so high and is on the rise.
Over the past two years, more than 900 doctors and health workers filed for retirement. By April this year, more than 200 health workers decided to quit.
In Hồ Chí Minh City, in 2021 alone, more than 1,000 health workers resigned. By the first quarter of this year, more than 400 more had called it quits. Scattered elsewhere in the country, hundreds of health workers left their jobs.
The ministry has sent a directive requesting a report detailing all the resignations from January 1 until June 15, 2022, the first effort to document this issue in detail.
"Our health sector has been agonising and grafting while many people were arrested. Who's going to do the work?" said a doctor on condition of anonymity.
"Training a health worker takes a long time, three years for a nurse, five years or more for a medical technician, and at least 10 years for MDs. If it's an isolated case of a doctor or a clinic, it's already very sad and devastating.
"It's horrifying to imagine when all these people were locked up, and the rest of us have to fight new and more resistant coronavirus variants. You can look around now. Almost each and every province has been involved in the case."
Being a health worker has never been easy. It's even more difficult now: the long working hours, limited pay, demanding patients, and the enormous pressure of a job directly affecting human life.
Being part of the health sector means you've decided to dedicate not only your youth to hard work, but you are also tied to the Hippocratic Oath for the rest of your life.
During this challenging time, it's also important to reiterate our health workers' enormous work and effort in these past two years of the pandemic.
It's correct that those who have done wrong are sentenced for their wrongdoing, but we also hope that the medically experienced and competent technicians be given a chance to make amends.
The corruption of some 70 people cannot and shall not break the back of our health sector. We must hold on to our faith, for we shall overcome this challenge. VNS