Vietnam's Foreign Aid When COVID-19 rates began rising in China in the winter of 2019, Vietnam, one of its near neighbors, did not hesitate to act. After experiencing devastating blows in previous years from the SARS virus, another respiratory illness, and the H5N1 virus, Vietnam acted quickly. The government of Vietnam instituted quarantines in cities throughout the country, began contract tracing within the first couple of months of the outbreak and focused on keeping the public as educated as possible. Between January and April 16, 2020, Vietnam recorded fewer than 400 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths. Furthermore, for almost 100 days after this period, Vietnam had zero cases of local transmission. Now, Vietnam’s foreign aid looks to help Vietnam’s neighbors, Laos and Cambodia.

COVID-19 in Laos and Cambodia

In April 2021, Laos and Cambodia suffered a surge of COVID-19 cases that brought concern o Vietnam. Vietnam expressed distress that April’s major national holidays would encourage a spike within Vietnam with people traveling between different countries, undoing Vietnam’s COVID-19 progress. In order to mitigate concerns of rising cases and the risk to Vietnam, Vietnam opted to extend foreign aid to Laos and Cambodia.

Helping Cambodia

In April 2021, the recently appointed Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Jakarta, Indonesia, “on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that had gathered to discuss the Myanmar crisis.” Shortly thereafter, discussions began about continued measures to decrease the impacts of COVID-19. Vietnam agreed to give foreign aid to Cambodia to strengthen its response to COVID-19. This came in the form of a $500,000 donation, “800 respirators, two million medical masks and 300,000 N95 masks.” In this act of aid, Vietnam expresses its close diplomatic relations with Cambodia.

Assisting Laos

Similar discussions also took place with Laos. In anticipation of more cross-border travel because of holiday festivities, Vietnam also offered foreign aid to Laos to strengthen its COVID-19 response. In a similar fashion to Cambodia, Laos also experienced a spike in cases toward the end of April 2021, however, the total number of deaths remains low at just five deaths.

According to The Laotian Times, in early May 2021, the Vietnamese government gave Laos $500,000 as well as medical resources and the support of 35 medical staff to help the country in its fight against COVID-19. The medical workers and resources from Vietnam arrived in Laos at Wattay International Airport. The medical supplies included “200 respirators, 10,000 kilograms of chloramine and two million face masks.”

A Beacon of Hope

Vietnam’s success against COVID-19 is a source of pride for the country. Vietnam’s COVID-19 response has also served as an inspiration to neighboring countries. The tactics put in place early on by the Vietnamese government helped facilitate its success in subsequent months when cases were rising elsewhere. Vietnam’s foreign aid during COVID-19 is helping its neighbors regain hope in recovery. Hopefully, as Vietnam’s foreign aid of both monetary stimulus and medical assistance helps countries recover, other countries will be inspired to reach out a helping hand as well.

– Grace Parker
Photo: Flickr

Vietnam rice farming appFarming is becoming more valuable to Vietnam’s development as a nation. Vietnam has a rapidly growing economy and is highly reliant on its agricultural sector. The value of Vietnam’s agriculture, fishing and forestry markets accounted for almost 15% of the country’s GDP in 2020. However, there are a few roadblocks standing in the way of Vietnamese agricultural success. A Vietnam rice farming app is helping farmers to overcome these obstacles.

Rice and Salt Water

Vietnam is one of the world’s biggest rice producers. These rice farmers depend on certain environmental conditions to take place in order to produce their influential yield. If natural variables are out of alignment, an entire season’s crop can go to waste. Without a successful crop, the livelihood of farmers is put at risk and they can easily slip into poverty. Thankfully, a Vietnam rice farming app was designed to keep rice farmers aware of precisely how their paddies are doing.

The smartphone app is helpful for farmers all across Vietnam, including in the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is a vast expanse in the southern part of Vietnam where the majority of the country’s farming and fishing occurs. The pronounced wet and dry seasons affect the delta greatly since it’s a very low-lying area. During the wet season, there is plenty of fresh rainwater that fills the rivers. In the dry season, rivers are not filled with rainwater, so seawater laden with salt flows into them. A high saltwater content in rice fields can make the roots of the rice inefficient at absorbing water and can kill the plant. Regulating the salt content is a crucial aspect of being a rice paddy farmer. The Vietnam rice farming app aims to help local farmers monitor salt levels among its various other features to protect farms.

Impact of the App

Technology is offering a simple solution to the problem. The Vietnamese government, in conjunction with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), launched a mobile app that provides farmers with information about the state of water in their rice paddies. This Vietnam rice farming app reports data collected by various sensors placed on farms across the Mekong Delta to each app user.

This Vietnam rice farming app gets information to the farmers quickly, which helps the farmers to make the necessary changes before it’s too late. Farmers can easily check the app for updates on the water quality in their rice paddies, such as the water’s salinity, pH, alkalinity and tidal water levels. This information helps farmers to prevent their crops from going to waste. For example, when the app reports salinity being too high, farmers know they must pump fresh water into the fields.

Before this mobile app, farmers were only getting one out of the usual three harvests annually. During a salinity wave, 300,000 hectares of rice fields were lost. But due to the implementation of the sensors and tracking abilities, the next salinity wave brought only 21,000 hectares of damage. This Vietnam rice farming app is protecting farmers from the costly reality of a ruined crop.

Of Poverty and Rice

The Vietnam rice farming app has a broad impact. About half of Vietnam’s 47 million labor force workers engage in agriculture and a poor harvest could prove detrimental to many Vietnamese people. Many in Vietnam don’t have savings and live a subsistence lifestyle, which can make any financial blow very serious. This is particularly true for the nearly 70% of the country lives in rural areas where poverty is especially concerning. The rate of rural poverty is around three times the urban poverty rate. By reducing the variables and uncertainty in the farming process with an app, Vietnamese farmers can feel empowered and less threatened about falling into extreme poverty. Utilizing this technology in agricultural practices can help save the rice paddies and protect against poverty in Vietnam.

– Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

Deforestation in VietnamVietnam is a Southeast Asian country along the east coast of the Indochinese Peninsula. Its tropical climate makes it a naturally biodiverse place, but deforestation in Vietnam threatens the livelihoods of citizens. In April 2021, USAID approved two new projects totaling $74 million to help fight deforestation in Vietnam and improve the lives of thousands of citizens in poverty who rely on forests to live.

Deforestation in Vietnam

Deforestation in Vietnam is very severe. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the South Vietnam Lowland Dry Forests region is the most degraded forest outside India. Despite being home to many endangered species, only 2% of the forests are designated as protected. Furthermore, about 90% of the forests are subject to deforestation. The U.N. emphasizes that protecting biodiversity and restoring previously exploited land will improve the quality of life for citizens in countries worldwide. Indigenous and rural communities, in particular, will benefit from reversing deforestation as the protection of forest resources decreases the economic vulnerability of these groups.

The Sustainable Forest Management Project

The USAID Sustainable Forest Management project partners with the Vietnamese Government, the Vietnam Forest Owner Association (VIFORA) and forest owners to minimize the impacts of deforestation in seven of Vietnam’s most affected provinces. The main objective of this project is to develop and enforce forest conservation policies. This includes funding to increase the Vietnamese Government’s ability to prosecute deforestation crimes.

Execution of this program also involves working with the authorities, private companies and local forest owners to extend the reach of the Payment for Forest Environmental Services program. This mechanism provides direct monetary compensation to residents for forest protection efforts. Strong partnerships between aid organizations and local implementers allow these programs to help the target populations build self-sufficiency effectively.

USAID allotted $36 million for this project. In addition to funding forest management policies, this program directly helps Vietnamese communities living in forest land by promoting sustainable lifestyle practices for forest dwellers.  An estimated 250,000 hectares of forest and 70 organizations will benefit from the program. The program will also benefit the 60,000 individuals living in Vietnam’s forests who are expected to have improved and more sustainable livelihoods.

The Biodiversity Conservation Project

The USAID Biodiversity Conservation project partners with the World Wildlife Fund to provide economical alternatives for activities that lead to Vietnam’s deforestation. The project focuses on substituting forest-harming industries with forest-preserving ones. The project has the potential to increase incomes for forest-dwelling communities while reversing deforestation in Vietnam. The Biodiversity Conservation project relies on strong partnerships with the Vietnamese Government and local organizations for effective implementation.

USAID allotted $38 million for this project, which will benefit 700,000 hectares of forest land. An additional 7,000 individuals living in Vietnam’s forests will also gain income opportunities from forest-friendly endeavors. In addition, 250 villages will receive increased protection of their natural environments with a 50% decrease in animal hunting and consumption.

Deforestation in Vietnam threatens the livelihoods of the most disadvantaged populations still living in forest land. Despite this vulnerability, the Vietnamese Government struggles to stop deforestation without foreign aid. USAID’s two projects not only fight deforestation but promote practices that will directly help lift forest dwellers out of poverty.

Viola Chow
Photo: Pixabay

Healthcare in Vietnam
Vietnam has a notoriously fragmented, scattered and inefficient healthcare provider market. With over 50,000 clinics across the country, it is difficult to book appointments or make accurate decisions about what doctors or clinics will best serve the health needs within a specific price range. The Vietnamese start-up, Docosan, provides customers with a single database of clinics filtered by the location and medical need. Additionally, the app offers prices and reviews and gives customers the ability to book appointments. As a private firm, this startup streamlines healthcare in Vietnam and makes the healthcare market accessible to all. 

A Notoriously Fragmented and Overextended Market

Before 1990, hospitals operated under a socialist model that discouraged any profit motive. However, after the early 1990 hospital reforms, hospitals began to charge private fees. The result was an improvement in the quality of healthcare in Vietnam. From 1990 to 2015, life expectancy increased from 71 to 76 and infant mortality decreased from 58 deaths for every 1,000 deaths to 18. In addition, underweight infants decreased from 37% of the population to only 14%.

Nonetheless, serious administrative problems remain. In Vietnam, a total of 1,531 hospitals exist with more than 50,000 clinics. This abundance of providers has resulted in a scrambled system that leads to overextension of resources and administrative capacity.

Although an overflow of healthcare providers exists, the usage is concentrated. For example, private healthcare providers make up only 6% of all healthcare facilities while private healthcare providers provide 60% of outpatient services. Moreover, the private healthcare providers are almost exclusively located in urban areas. As a study on public hospital governance found, 48% of patients traveled from the provinces to the central providers.

As a result, the system is fragmented and overextended, while most patients are concentrated in a minority of providers in the central and provincial hospitals. For instance, bed occupancy rates have reached between 120% and 160% in central hospitals. Three patients per bed is not an uncommon phenomenon. 

Hospitals and Clinics

All of this begs the question, why do people choose hospitals much farther away than closer clinics to wait in long lines and receive only a portion of the required care? A part of the explanation can be simply that large national hospitals provide better care with more resources. Yet, a cultural explanation also provides insight into this question. By having an abundance of options and no central database to receive the necessary information to choose which doctor or hospital to receive care from, many Vietnamese rely on the recommendations of friends and families. 

The Vietnamese healthcare provider market is overextended and simultaneously concentrated in a select few hospitals. As a result, there are long wait times, resource scarcity in most hospitals and an overall lack of accurate market signals, which create inefficiencies in and of themselves.

Docosan

In other words, a need exists to consolidate the information and make booking appointments more accessible. However, many have responded to meet this need. In collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Communication, the Ministry of Health launched a virtual platform to connect doctors and patients. Moreover, private start-ups like Pharmicity, Buy Med and e-Doctor have variations of a forum like this as each one seeks to streamline healthcare providers. 

The Docosan application breaks down its search by both geography and health need. From there, it presents a set of doctors within the parameters for users to compare prices and reviews. Customers also have the opportunity to choose a doctor and set up an appointment. In essence, Docosan is significantly improving the market by centralizing the information, providing user-friendly access to the information and giving customers the ability to book appointments through a service that is free for users.

Although this may sound rudimentary, it is revolutionary. Now, customers no longer need to instinctively head to the large central hospitals with no appointment or idea if the hospital will provide the care they need. Customers can find the appropriate hospital or doctor and book an appointment. Meanwhile, doctors can reach a more extensive customer base while focusing more on patients by handing administrative tasks to Docosan.

Beth Ann Lopez, a former Peace Corp and USAID worker who moved to Southeast Asia, founded Docosan in February 2020. As of October 2020, the platform had more than 70 doctors and 2,000 users. However, the numbers expeditiously increased to 50,000 users and over 300 healthcare providers by April 2021. Therefore, scaling may be a problem as the number of users increases by 20% to 40% a month. 

Looking Ahead

Nevertheless, Docosan received a massive boost in funding to help this problem of scaling. In April 2021, Docosan received over $1 million in seed funding that the Taiwanese-based firm, AppWorks, led. Docosan claims this is the largest seed funding for a Vietnamese health tech firm. With this boost, Docosan is looking to increase its specialized care options.

This seed funding has brought high expectations. As the founder, Beth Ann Lopez, said, “Our long-term goal with Docosan is to transform how people access healthcare in Vietnam. We want it to be as easy as booking a taxi on an app.” Docosan is setting out to revolutionize healthcare in Vietnam by simply streamlining the decision process. 

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Vietnam
Although poverty has reduced in Vietnam, child poverty in Vietnam is still a key issue. Due to political reforms, Vietnam has enjoyed steady economic growth and poverty reduction over the past few decades. In fact, per the World Bank, Vietnam’s poverty rate has decreased from 50% in the 1950s to 2% as of 2019. Despite these recent gains, around 4 million Vietnamese children still live under the poverty line. In fact, 24% of Vietnamese children suffer from stunting due to malnutrition, while 10% are out of school. Ethnic minorities, especially those living in rural areas, are particularly high-risk for child poverty.

Today, many organizations are fighting child poverty in Vietnam decreases and children receive a happy, healthy start. Here are three nonprofits fighting child poverty in Vietnam.

Children of Vietnam

Founded in 1998, Children of Vietnam aims to utilize effective, personal strategies to lift children out of poverty. The organization focuses on serving particularly vulnerable youth. This includes those with disabilities, ethnic minorities and students at risk of dropping out of school.

The organization has several initiatives helping various groups impacted by child poverty in Vietnam, such as the Empowering Single Mothers Initiative. This initiative works to meet the immediate needs of single mothers and their children while simultaneously helping them develop important business and educational skills. The program involves microloans, training on micro-business and school scholarships for single mothers’ children. Another initiative is the Delivering Clean Water and Sanitation Initiative which operates by bringing large water filtration systems to schools and communities in rural areas. In 2021 alone, the nonprofit has provided 1 million meals to hungry children, 480 interventions to children with disabilities and 795 scholarships.

Save the Children

Save the Children began working in Vietnam in 1990. Since then, it has received the reputation of being one of the leading charities aiding those suffering from child poverty in Vietnam. Its main focus is on health and nutrition, in addition to providing assistance in the areas of education and livelihoods, child protection, disaster risk reduction and emergency response. The organization primarily operates by working in tandem with governmental agencies, schools and local networks to provide aid. In 2020, Save the Children was able to positively impact the lives of over 7 million children in Vietnam.

ChildFund

ChildFund partners with local organizations to support the education, health and long-term opportunities for ethnic minority children in Vietnam. When working with children aged 0-5, the program focuses on ensuring health, security and child-friendly learning corners in the home. The 6-14 age range centers on education and confidence building, with experiential learning training playing a key role. Programs for ages 15-24 are based on the principles of skillfulness and involvement and include participation in vocational training and securing employment. Through its sponsorship model, the program has benefited over 33,000 children and their families over the past 25 years.

Despite ongoing issues of childhood poverty, organizations such as Children of Vietnam, Save the Children and ChildFund are working to provide sustainable, community-based resources for those suffering from child poverty in Vietnam. As these initiatives continue to grow, the outlooks of impoverished children and families in Vietnam will grow alongside them.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Flickr

The COVID-19 Outbreak in Vietnam
Vietnam is currently undergoing its worst outbreak of COVID-19 with more than 4,000 active cases. The Vietnamese Ministry of Health has already sprung into action and developed a plan to make sure the situation does not get out of control. Despite the pandemic, Vietnam has managed to expand its economy due to its swift action. Here is some information about the COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam.

Historical Context

Vietnam, like any country, is no stranger to disease and has always found pride in its epidemic response. In the early 2000s, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Vietnam the first country to become SARS free.

Since 2016, Vietnam’s hospital staffers have had to report notable diseases to a central database within a 24-hour period. The Ministry of Health is using this database to promptly track patterns of contagion within the country. This has been a key instrument in limiting the COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam.

Current Statistics

Vietnam remains one of the leading countries in COVID-19 control with 4,809 confirmed cases as of May 20, 2021. As one of the bordering countries of China, Vietnam sprung into action when the pandemic began spreading. The first reports of COVID-19 cases in Vietnam began on January 23. This prompted the government to set up quarantine camps to isolate the patients as well as their close contacts.

Dan Nguyen, a Vietnamese citizen, had to stay in a quarantine camp upon her return to Vietnam. She uploaded her stay to YouTube, which documented Nguyen sharing her quarters with three others. Medical professionals checked their temperatures twice daily and provided everyone with three meals a day.

“It was cleaner than I expected,” Nguyen said. “The only thing that concerned me is that we don’t have the Wi-Fi here. The data is really slow that’s why we don’t have very excellent internet access.”

Vietnam had gone 99 days without any community transmissions, breaking the streak on July 25, 2020. However, the last week of July saw a 30% increase in coronavirus cases, which has kept steady ever since.

Hanoi, Bac Ninh and Vinh Phuc are the current leading cities for COVID-19 outbreaks in Vietnam. In total, 2,077 Vietnamese people have been receiving treatment either for COVID-19 symptoms, COVID-19 exposure or proven infection as of May 20, 2021. There have been 39 confirmed deaths.

How Vietnam is Handling the Pandemic

As mentioned, the Ministry of Health practices isolationism techniques, but one of its goals is to find a balance between concealment and economic productivity. The Ministry has limited non-essential vocations and other community-based activities while allowing essential businesses to continue their work. All businesses must adhere to standard COVID-19 procedures such as mask-wearing and disinfection techniques. Vietnam has encouraged its citizens to continue social distancing and only leave their homes for work, school or medical functions.

In addition, Vietnam has 123 medical facilities with laboratories that can test for COVID-19. The Ministry of Health plans to increase testing for active screening for those with COVID-19 symptoms. These symptoms would include cough/difficulty breathing, fever and respiratory inflammation. This screening process would make those who have a high risk of infection a priority.

The Vietnamese government officially closed its borders to everyone except for public officials and essential workers on March 22, 2020. All foreigners who enter Vietnam must quarantine for a period of 21 days. One can accredit this to an incident in which a carrier of COVID-19 tested positive upon their completion of a 14-day quarantine.

COVID-19’s Impact on Vietnam’s Economy

Reports stated that Vietnam was the top-performing Asian economy of 2020 with an expansion of 2.9%. This is one of the highest in the world. Economists such as Gareth Leather have suggested that the extensive and immediate COVID-19 response aided in preventing an economic recession. Leather reported, “By the end of 2021, we think GDP will be only 1.5% lower than it would have been had the crisis not happened. This is one of the smallest gaps in the region.”

Despite the COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam, projections have determined that Vietnam will expand its economy by 6.5% in 2021. This is in part because of Doi Moi reforms that took place in the 1980s. This transformed Vietnam from an agriculturally based economy to a foreign direct investment-led manufacturing system that brought the country out of extreme poverty.

In addition, essential businesses have continued to provide high-demand exports of electronics and clothing manufacturing throughout the pandemic. Vietnam is the second-largest exporter of smartphones, an important feature of the COVID-19 pandemic which has increased telecommunication.

Vietnam’s Vaccination Goals

As of May 11, 2021, 892,454 citizens have received vaccinations. This has met 107% of Vietnam’s goal which was to have 917,600 individuals vaccinated. Though officials want at least 70% of Vietnam’s population vaccinated, the distribution of vaccine doses currently remains with medical professionals. Officials plan to purchase 150 million vaccination doses through COVAX. WHO, UNICEF, GAVI and CEPI should be delivering over 3 million vaccines to the country by the end of May 2021.

Looking Ahead

The deliverance of the vaccines provides Vietnam with a sense of hopefulness that the current outbreak will soon be a thing of the past. The country is looking forward to eliminating COVID-19 from its region.

– Camdyn Knox
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Fashion IndustryFashion as a feminist movement is a powerful force to lift women out of poverty. Brands that provide their female garment workers a living wage empower them to lead a dignified life. Fashion consumers advocate for women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes through ethically produced clothing. Consumer brand choices have the power to uplift ethical brands that support labor sustainability and female garment workers experiencing oppression. Considering these facts, poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement means supporting women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. They produce the t-shirts with feminist quotes found in stores all over the globe. However, in 2019, Oxfam reported that 1% of Vietnamese garment workers and 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by underpaid female Bangladeshi garment workers. These workers earned 35p an hour during 54-hour workweeks amounting to 8,800 takas — well below the living wage estimate of 16,000 takas. Furthermore, the workers were exposed to harassment and abuse. The business practices of fast fashion brands highlight the imbalance between the feminist movement, consumer actions and the grim reality of garment workers.

The Feminist Movement and Fast Fashion

Fashion brands are a powerful force in ending cycles of poverty. But, fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing made by overworked and underpaid garment workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks for seven days a week, ranging from 10-18 hours a day. On average, the wages paid are two to five times less than what is needed for a worker and her family to live above the poverty line. The Juniper Research study predicts that online shopping fueled by COVID-19 will increase fashion sales to $4.4 trillion by 2025. Top fashion CEOs earn in four days what garment workers spend their whole life trying to make. The unfortunate truth is that fast fashion has made the richest men in the world at the expense of the most vulnerable women.

Poverty in the Fashion Industry

In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia reported that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. In other words, a living wage and fair working conditions are reasonable consumer expectations. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also reported that increasing the cost of clothing by 20 cents would allow Indian garment workers to earn a living wage. By investing more in clothing production, brands and consumers can support the global development of garment workers. This will allow workers and their families to invest in education, healthcare and their local community.

Ethical Fashion

Garment workers employed at ethical brands are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions and are treated fairly. On the other hand, fast fashion workers face gender discrimination through mandatory pregnancy tests, abuse and sexual harassment. Fashion as a feminist movement has the power to address the main human rights abuse in the industry — the non-payment of a living wage.

Female empowerment is a catalyst for prosperity. The United Nations reports that investing in the education of girls and women helps global transformation. It contributes to economic growth, reduces poverty through increased productivity and improves health outcomes. Studies have shown that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family size, provide better care to their family and send their children to school.

However, poverty is an important factor in whether girls and women obtain an education. Without a living wage, poverty-stricken workers cannot afford to send their children to school and the cycle of poverty continues. Education has the power to help improve the lives of women and reduce maternal and child mortality rates. Therefore, education for girls fosters the development and empowerment of women.

Moving Forward

Poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue. Brands that invest in the talented and skilled female workforce acknowledge that living wages empower women and their local communities. Garment workers need to be placed at the forefront of the industry to negotiate better pay and working conditions. Being in leadership roles ensures that fashion as a feminist movement represents the most vulnerable around the world. The fashion industry and consumers have the power to help end global poverty, improve access to education and empower women through conscious consumerism.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Artificial Intelligence in VietnamVietnam has experienced incredible growth since the 1986 Doi Moi reforms. Through these reforms that prioritized the market, the once struggling Southeast Asian nation became one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. In recent years, Vietnam has explored other ways to build upon this success. The country’s government has invested in artificial intelligence in Vietnam as a tool for development.

Development of Artificial Intelligence in Vietnam

In 1986 the Communist Party of Vietnam passed a set of reforms that shifted its centrally planned economy to a more decentralized one that prioritizes market forces. The reforms had profound consequences for the Vietnamese economy and poverty reduction. In the last three decades, the poverty rates declined from a stunning 70% to just around 6%, while the GDP per capita increased by 2.5 times.

However, in recent years the Vietnamese government has sought ways to build upon this growth through investment and further reforms. One area of interest is AI. Nonetheless, investment in the burgeoning technology has been lackluster until recently. Between 2015 and 2019, Vietnam invested less than a dollar per capita in AI. Meanwhile, Singapore invested $68 per capita in this technology.

However, many private companies have tried to invest and develop AI creating a small community of AI specialists. The country lacked government support, infrastructure, resources and training to develop the industry fully.

National Strategy on R&D and Application of Artificial Intelligence

Lately, the Vietnamese government has shifted its approach from passive support to underwriting the industry’s success. In March of 2021, the then Prime Minister, now President Phuc, laid out a master plan to develop the industry of artificial intelligence in Vietnam. The plan, entitled the ‘National Strategy on R&D and Application of Artificial Intelligence,” lays out Vietnam’s plan to develop AI until 2030.

Among other things, the strategy sets out to develop three national innovative centers on AI, ten Renowned AI Centers in the region, three national centers for big data and high-performance computing and 50 open, linked and connected data sets.

The entire government is being called upon to assist in this development. Fifteen government ministries and the Bank of Vietnam have all been given goals for integrating AI applications. A few examples from the strategy include: The Department of Defense has been asked to develop “intelligentization and modernization of equipment and weapons,” and the Ministry of Trade is tasked with creating “automated in-store purchases and delivery completion.”

Vietnam’s Long Term Strategies

The plan dedicates a certain amount of focus and resources towards AI development and vows to create an AI ecosystem and regulatory structure. The goals of the national strategy are ambitious. The Vietnamese government hopes the national strategy will propel Vietnam to the top four Southeast Asian countries and in the top 50 of the world for the AI industry by 2030. Essentially, the government is planning to make AI an important technology, spanning countless industries and private and government functions.

This support of artificial intelligence in Vietnam has manifested into more than just promises. A couple of months after the announcement to develop AI in the country, Vietnam launched its first artificial intelligence research center at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology. The Hanoi University and the Naver Group from South Korea will jointly run the center. The center will focus on basic research, connecting domestic and international AI operators and creating “made-in-Vietnam” core technologies. Furthermore, as one of the directors at the University, Dr. Ta Hai Tung described the center’s purpose as “…promoting AI applications in various industries and areas to accelerate digital transformation and boost the 4.0 industrial revolution in Vietnam.”

The Importance of AI for a Developing Country

In essence, the impacts the technology will have on the economy, society and everyday life motivate AI development in Vietnam. Overall, the potential application of AI technology is widespread. It spans healthcare, transportation, national security, finance and criminal justice and promises to streamline decision-making and data analysis and integration. AI development brings speed, efficiency, adaptability and expertise as it increases innovation, productivity, efficiency and cuts the cost of everyday business operations. As a result, the firm Price Waterhouse Coopers predicts AI can increase global GDP by $15.7 trillion by 2030.

The benefits of AI are particularly critical for developing countries that require non-traditional and cheaper technologies to streamline its development. For example, a financial institution out of Kenya, M-Shawri, which supplies customers with unsecured loans, utilizes AI to predict applicants’ default probability. In Mexico, the diabetic company, Clinicas de Azucar, utilizes AI to analyze health care data to better support thousands of diabetic customers.

AI development in Vietnam is predicted to be just as impactful. On its current trajectory, artificial technology is expected to contribute 12% to its GDP by 2030. As Tomoya Onishi describes it, “Hanoi wants AI to raise public sector productivity, particularly online public services to reduce processing and waiting times, public servant numbers, and other costs. Using AI to beef up national security is also high on the agenda.”

Artificial Intelligence as the Future

As the world prepares for an AI-driven future, Vietnam is searching to take advantage of the nascent technology to maintain and expand its remarkable growth. More than its rhetoric, the Vietnamese actively support the development of the technology through investment and setting up the necessary regulatory and legal structure. In other words, the government has prioritized artificial intelligence as a tool for development in Vietnam.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Victims of Agent Orange
Countless Vietnamese people fell victim to the Vietnam War, which devastated Vietnam for two decades. Millions not only fell victim to conventional weapons of war, but millions have also suffered from the unconventional methods of that war, namely herbicidal warfare. Decades later, the United States government is working toward rectifying that wrong by assisting those who have suffered from the gas. Primarily, the U.S. is working through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) by providing restitution for victims of Agent Orange.

Herbicidal Warfare

The Vietnam War has its roots in post-World War II when Vietnam temporarily split into two separate entities. Communist guerillas controlled the North, while the French Backed Emperor Bao Dai controlled the South. As the conflict between the two grew, the French became further entwined in the conflict, eventually leading the fight. Although a small, largely untrained force, the communist group, led by the charismatic leader Ho Chin Minh, successfully fought the French, winning the decisive Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Both sides signed the treaty at the Geneva Conference in 1954 and created an officially split Vietnam with promises of a nationwide election and reunification in 1956.

Although U.S. involvement in Vietnam was initially marginal, the CIA provided training and equipment to the South government, then controlled by Ngo Dinh Diem. Afterward, the U.S.’s involvement quickly escalated. After the torpedoing of two U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin, the United States began bombing campaigns and eventually deployed over 2.7 million soldiers throughout the war.

Agent Orange in the Vietnam War

The war officially lasted from 1955 to 1975, and over the two decades, nearly 3 million Vietnamese died, 2 million of whom were civilians. Although conventional warfare was primarily responsible for these deaths, herbicidal warfare provided its contributions. The United States dropped 20 million gallons of herbicides across the country, subjecting over 4 million Vietnamese to the toxic compounds. Primarily, the U.S. government used Agent Orange, an orange herbicide comprising two different types of herbicides, 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T, containing the poisonous chemical compound dioxin.

Although the U.S. stopped using dioxin in 1971, Agent Orange has had disastrous effects on the Vietnamese population. Everything from multiple forms of cancers, congenital disabilities, soft tissue sarcomas and peripheral neuropathy links to Agent Orange. The effects are widespread. Of the 4.8 million people across Vietnam that have had exposure to the herbicide, 3 million are suffering deadly diseases as a result. Tragically, the herbicide spans generations as many born two generations removed from the conflict suffer from congenital disabilities and health problems directly from Agent Orange. The lifespan of dioxin is complicated, but in human bodies, it can last up to 20 years, while it can last more than 100 years in sediments of bodies of water. It has contaminated soil, water supplies and food.

United States Liability

Although the U.S. government has provided over $197 million in payments to Vietnam veterans, providing restitution to Vietnamese citizens has been more complicated. The U.S. government has yet to apologize or accept responsibility for the after-effects of the herbicide. Even so, for the sake of strong bilateral ties with the U.S., much of the blame has gone to the chemical companies involved in the production of Agent Orange. However, companies insist that the responsibility falls on the U.S. government.

Vietnamese organizations have made multiple attempts to receive financial reparations for the Agent Orange that the U.S. used during the war. In 2004, a Vietnamese group sued over 30 companies involved in the production and manufacturing of Agent Orange; they alleged that the chemical agent’s use constituted a war crime. A Brooklyn district court dismissed the case in 2005.

Restitution in Vietnam

Nevertheless, as Vietnam and the U.S. improve their bilateral relations through USAID, the U.S. has taken on the initiative to help clean up the residual dioxin. In 2019, national security advisor Robert O’Brien announced that over $110 million of the USAID budget would go toward cleaning up the primary site for the storage of Agent Orange during the war, Bien Hoa Airbase Area. The joint project between USAID and Vietnam’s Air Force Air Defense Command will take up to 10 years. USAID is building upon the successful 2018 project with the Vietnamese government to clean up the area around the Da Nang Airport.

More so, it is providing relief for the victims of Agent Orange. The Obama Administration started this with the Trump Administration continuing the program. Afterward, the Biden Administration renewed the program. The U.S. Agent Orange/Dioxin Assistance to Vietnam report from the Congressional Research Service claims that aid for health-related services and assistance began being appropriated to USAID to use in Vietnam in 2009 but has continued with the dedication of a total of $94 million for just health-related services since 2011. Each year, the total has increased, apart from 2011 and 2013 when it dropped by $200,000. The most recent appropriations came in December 2020, dedicating $14.5 million to health-related activities. However, the majority of the appropriations went toward funding medical infrastructure and capacity building.

Looking Forward

More recently, USAID has moved to direct assistance. In April 2019, USAID announced a memorandum of intent to support people with disabilities. Shortly after, USAID set up staff in the country to collect information to understand the problem better. With this knowledge, the organization announced a grant to fund initiatives to improve the quality of life for those dealing with dioxin’s adverse effects. As Xuan Dung Phan describes it, “USAID will work with local NGOs to provide hospital-based/home-based rehabilitation, palliative care, home modifications, training, personal assistance services and assistive products.”

Although the U.S. government has refused to accept responsibility, through USAID, it has provided life-changing service for the millions of Vietnamese dealing with the residual consequences of its Agent Orange spraying during the Vietnam War. Thus, USAID is providing restitution for victims of Agent Orange.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Laos' Fight Against COVID-19
Laos has been one of the few success stories in containing COVID-19 and mitigating its worst effects. However, a recent spike has caused widespread worry about the government’s ability to maintain low infection rates. Nonetheless, the Vietnamese government has stepped in to provide expert and material support to its neighbor. As Vietnam supports Laos’ fight against COVID-19, it stands as an example to the rest of the world regarding supporting other countries in need.

Laos and COVID-19

Until recently, Laos was a shining example of how to contain the virus successfully. Between Laos’ first reported case on March 24, 2020, and April 18, 2021, the Southeast Asian nation had a total of 58 reported cases and zero deaths. The government achieved incredible numbers by acting swiftly. Almost immediately, Laos officials instituted a nationwide lockdown and provincial lockdowns and developed a rigorous testing system for migrant workers and travelers.

However, the rigorous response came with a significant cost to the economy as tourism and remittance plummeted. According to the World Bank, the expected GDP growth will be its lowest in more than three decades at 0.4%. Moreover, the unemployment rate is a staggering 23% while the public external stock has increased to 65% of GDP. The debt levels had gotten so out of hand, the government had to sign a 25-year concession of its electrical grid to a majority Chinese-owned company.

Nevertheless, the government sacrificed economic growth to save countless lives. The severity of the dichotomy becomes apparent when looking closer at Laos’ healthcare system. For example, the Global Health Security Index ranks Laos 92nd regarding “health capacity in clinics, hospitals, and community care centers.” Moreover, it ranks the country 101st regarding ease of access to healthcare and 116th in “capacity to test and approve new medical countermeasures.” Innovativeness and access are vital to dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. 

The Recent Spike of COVID-19 Cases

Although reports have not determined any deaths, the total cases jumped from 60 on April 20, 2021, to 933 just a few weeks later. The incredible jump came as the average cases per day rose to 87.

What makes the situation more worrisome is that Laos has only administered 184,387 COVID-19 vaccines in total. With a population of 7.5 million, only 1.34% of the population has obtained vaccines. The government is administering about 4,424 doses a day. At the current rate, it will take another 325 days before about 10% of the population receives vaccinations.

The spike has its origins in its neighbor Thailand who has struggled to contain the virus. On April 21, 2021, Laos reported 28 cases of COVID-19 infections in its capital. All 28 cases occurred via Thailand. About 26 cases were from residents of Vientiane who had contact with a student carrying the infection from a Thai man. The remaining two cases involved migrant workers who had recently returned from Thailand. 

Vietnam Provides Assistance

In late April 2021, the Vietnamese Minister of Health, Nguyen Than Long announced that the Vietnamese government would donate 200 ventilators, two million masks, 10 tons of ChlorominB and other supplies to aid Laos’ fight against COVID-19 and prevent the outbreak from getting worse. Along with supplies, the government will send experts to help contain the virus. It will also assist Laos officials in setting up a rapid testing system. In total, the Vietnamese government has announced that it will send 35 doctors and experts on May 4 to help with diagnosis, treatment and the construction of field hospitals. 

Vietnamese support comes with demonstrated success in managing the pandemic. Overall, Vietnam has experienced 2,962 infections and 35 deaths. Notably, Vietnam was able to relatively contain the virus without sacrificing its economy. In 2020, its economy grew by 2.9%, and in 2021, expectations have determined that it could reach a growth of 6.6%.

Looking Ahead

Nevertheless, Laos has a long way to go in curbing the recent spike in infections. Preventing an increase in infections from overrunning the healthcare system and turning into a full-blown crisis will require decisive action. With a rudimentary healthcare system that has undergone economic exhaustion, assistance from Vietnam is critical in its struggle against the pandemic. As Vietnam supports Laos’ fight against COVID-19, it provides an important example for other countries helping those struggling in the pandemic.

 – Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr