Health in Vietnam: a cultural characteristic
The notion of health in Asian countries, and particularly in Vietnam, is unique and very different to that of western countries.
Cultural factors certainly play an important role here where the notions of solidarity and family unity are very important. But how can a matter as personal as health come under this umbrella and what effect does this have for the day-to-day life of an individual?
Caring for others is a priority
As such, health is not just the responsibility of one person; in general it represents a burden that’s carried by the family. Caring for a patient within a family is a heavy load to take on but it is a duty that cannot be ignored. Each individual has a predefined role according to their place in the family hierarchy and their gender: a female child won’t carry out the same tasks as a male; the eldest wouldn’t have the same responsibilities as the youngest. It’s a sign of respect to assist a relative affected by illness, whether serious or not.
This hierarchy allows everyone to react if a family member is affected, to support them and avoid specialist medical care as much as possible.
We can see that health is very important in a family and we might therefore think that this sharing of personal problems occurs because of a lack of modesty. In reality, the opposite is true. Vietnamese culture is actually very modest and this prevents people from talking easily to a doctor about their own medical concerns. This is why, traditionally, in Vietnamese culture people tend to avoid resorting to medical care and they prefer to let people within the family group look after anyone who may be ill. There is too much modesty to dare complain in front of an unknown person, even a doctor, or to ask them for help.
Get treatment? What an idea!
In any household, the health of others is the most important thing, while your own health is trivial in comparison.
Going to a clinic, hospital or even to the doctor seems to be an option rarely considered by Vietnamese people. When asked ‘Why don’t you just make an appointment?’ the response is ‘I can’t be bothered, I don’t have time, it’s not worth it’. However, without treatment, recovery can take longer and be more difficult but that doesn’t seem to matter.
This attitude can be explained in part by cultural considerations which lie behind Vietnamese logic. In Asian households, the question of whether they should even seek help isn’t considered; whatever happens, happens. As Buddhism is the most common religion in Vietnam, its not a surprise that some of its spiritual outlook also affects the country’s culture. Accepting the challenges of life is less a sign of negligence or giving up, and more a culturo-religious attitude.
In addition, it represents an extra cost for families where looking after oneself is not considered a priority. In Vietnam, residents spend an average of $83 a year on their health compared to $4582 in France (1). This could lead to many problems as leaving some illnesses untreated, even if they seem harmless at first, can aggravate them and they can become more serious. This leads us to ask, is there an innovation that can help us remedy this situation?
e-health: a solution?
In addition to the above-mentioned cultural issues, the remote nature of some parts of the country means many people are denied access to potential care. In isolated rural areas it is very difficult to obtain treatment from a doctor. According to studies from the site www.statistiques-mondiales.com, there are 1.2 doctors per 1000 residents in Vietnam compared to 3.3 in France (2).
One of the solutions to the problems outlined above is e-health. What is e-health? It’s an emerging application from Information and Communication Technology using technology and electronics to transmit patient medical data or to prescribe treatments from a distance. Telemedicine falls within this sphere and enables health services to be provided to individuals located in partially isolated areas or where distance can hinder treatment. Professionals in this field therefore use ICT for diagnostics, treatments, preventative campaigns or to carry out in-depth follow-ups. This approach means that more people have access to such care.
This could solve those difficulties linked to cultural factors and which get in the way of all physical contact with a doctor. A virtual approach could remove the psychological barrier which has existed for many generations.
With the 31 million internet users resident in Vietnam (out of 91 million inhabitants) (3), this kind of system could develop here as well as in other Asian countries. However, although in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City 95% of 15-22 year olds have access to the internet (4) it is still difficult to target an older or rural population as very few of them have access to the internet. So, while the path remains long, the progress growth of ICT should contribute, step by step, to this development.
(1), (2) www.statistiques-mondiales.com
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