Is Vietnamese Food Really Healthy?

By: Thibaud

Vietnamese food is delicious and it is often cited as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. To make sure that this was true, we spoke to Antoine Yvon, the head nutritionist at CMI hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. You will finally know if all those banh mi sandwiches are good for you, if you should drink the broth of your pho or not, and the name of Vietnam's only super fruit. The interview was translated from French.

The health benefit of a Vietnamese food diet

What is your general professional opinion about Vietnamese food? Is it as healthy as people think it is?

Vietnamese food is one of the most healthy and balanced in the world. As a professional, I have seen that dishes and ingredients used in Vietnamese cuisine can cover all the dietary needs on protein, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals because there is a great natural diversity of agricultural products. It is this diversity and variety that are the foundations of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

The way to eat food is also a very important factor that can influence the nutritional value of food. Eating with chopsticks, using multiple dishes, and sharing with people allows you to eat more slowly, to chew the food longer and in the end causes a better digestion and assimilation of nutrients, without overloading the digestive system.

Therefore, the social and cultural aspect of eating Vietnamese food is a reason why eating Vietnamese food is healthy.

The reputation of Vietnamese food as healthy is correct as long as we eat traditional dishes.

The economic growth has considerably changed the way Vietnamese people eat by bringing some Western habits and products. Modern Vietnamese eating habits are straying away from the ideals described above, with more and more processed products, enriched with artificial nutrients, artificial flavorings, rich “bad fat” (trans fat and saturated fat are not essential) and simple carbohydrates added to food, particularly all the dairy products which were unknown a few decades ago (pasteurized cheese, sweetened condensed milk, flavored yogurts) and all junk food (cakes, pastries, ice creams, sodas, fast food). 

Even though Vietnam is one of the countries with the lowest rate of obesity in the world if we look at the overall population, some categories have results that are not so positive: children and teenagers. The number of Vietnamese children under five years old with weight problems has doubled in four years in Vietnam, while at the same time it has decreased by 25% in the U.S.

Bun Mam is a nicely balanced dish

What Vietnamese food should be avoided? What are the healthiest options?

As long as you eat traditional food, there is not food that you should avoid. You must just make sure to avoid processed food as much as possible. It is also best to avoid deep fried food and those grilled on a barbecue.

The most healthy dishes are the soups (among which are pho), spring rolls, fruit and vegetable salads, claypot dishes, rice dishes with meat or fish cooked in sauce and fresh fruit juices.

What are the typical health problems developed by Vietnamese people from their eating habits?

The change of habits mentioned above are causing an increase in the number of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders (infarctus, diabetes, metabolic syndrome), obesity, cancers, particularly among children. Also, the increased consumption of alcohol among men increases the number of liver and digestive system cancers.

The healthiest fruits in Vietnam

Is there any Vietnamese superfood (a dish or a product with superior health benefits)?

Though not often eaten apart from during traditional festivities, the little know “gac” fruit (or red melon), often nicknamed the “fruit of paradise” is the fruit with the highest concentration of carotenoids in the world (a precursor to Vitamin A). The gac contains 75 times more lycopene (an antioxidant) than tomatoes. It can be considered a super fruit. Its taste is close from red melon and carrots. It is more and more popular in the U.S. or Europe as a eating supplement.

Gac is know for being a superfoodGac is one of the healthiest fruits you can get in Vietnam. Image by Egor Kataev

What are the most recommended local fruits and vegetables (dragonfruit, sapoche, kumquat, etc)? You might know the expression, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” - what is the Southeast Asian equivalent of our trusted apple?

Even though there are a lot of vegetables in traditional vietnamese food, the average daily consumption is twice less than the recommendations from the World Health Organization. 40% of cancers in Vietnam are linked to food consumption (principally because of processed food, bad eating habits and bad eating hygiene). It is certain that if more fruits and vegetables were eaten, the situation could improve. Unfortunately, people are buying less fresh fruits and vegetables, because they are suspicious about the hygiene and sanitary conditions of them, and more canned products which are poorer in essential nutrients.

More important than the qualities of certain food, the most important is to eat enough and regularly the greatest variety of fruits and vegetables.

If we had to categorize them according to how rich they are in nutriments, we could differentiate:

- The richest ones in vitamins and antioxidants (lychee and rambutan, chinese celery, ceylon spinach, guava, papaya, kiwi, dragon fruit)

- The ones with the most sugar (to be careful with): lotus seeds, sweet potato, taro, banana, grapes, cherries, mango)

- The ones that are hydrating and less sweet: berries, watermelon, melons, citruses (oranges, pomelo, lemon, kumquat), apple, star fruit, gac fruit

Vietnamese are among the largest consumers of durian fruit, known for its smell more than for its qualities. It is called the king fruit here. In Indonesia, it is considered an aphrodisiac. In Vietnam, it causes several deaths every year (the mix of alcohol and durian is toxic for the liver and excessive consumption can cause hypertension).

The link between what people eat and how healthy they are is not obvious yet for many Vietnamese, which causes a lack of interest for nutrition.

Dragonfruit is packed full of vitaminsDragon fruit is a tasty fruit packed full with vitamins and antioxidants!

Eating street food in Vietnam: Sauces, pho, banh mi, herbs...

Should we avoid Vietnamese sauces?

Sauces are a very important part of the Vietnamese food experience. A meal without sauces is like a meal without bread in France. You should not ban them.

Even the sauces that are very sweet or salty should not be banned totally. At reasonable doses, they represent only a fraction of the food intake compared to carbs like rice. Keep it simple and traditional!

Is pho healthy? Should the broth be drunk or left aside?

The pho, the most famous Vietnamese food, is certainly one of the most balanced dishes I know. Eaten all day long, it contains carbs, good proteins (beef or chicken), few fat, a lot of water, a lot of dietary fibers, vitamins, minerals (herbs and vegetables) and antioxidants (spices, chili, lemon). Who does not feel full after eating a Pho?

If you want to balance it even more, you can add a raw vegetable salad with vegetable oil for appetizers or a fruit salad for dessert. Add a few dry fruit too like nutmeg, peanuts, almonds.

The broth should be drunk because a lot of water-soluble vitamins and minerals are dissolved in the water during cooking. They are intact inside the broth (except for the B1 vitamin, B3 and C that are partially altered), a gold mine full of nutritive ingredients. The broth is as important as other ingredients of the pho. It is a source of water and thus hydrates and cools the body (just like nomads in the desert drink hot tea: a hot brew cools and hydrates the body better than cold water). The body reacts to hot liquids with several cooling processes (perspiration, transpiration, more efficient digestion, etc.).

Pho is one of the healthiest dishes in VietnamPho is a healthy and balanced Vietnamese dish. Image by James

Is banh mi healthy?

The banh mi is a sandwich that can be made in a multitude of ways depending on where you eat it.

More often, it contains a source of proteins (pork, chicken, ham), some vegetables (lettuce, carrots, green bean sprouts), bread and sometimes industrial soft cheese (The Laughing Cow brand).

The white bread used is not as filling as rice and noodles and is poor in good fat and fibers.

You should be careful in making sure the ingredients added are not processed food (pate, sausages, cheese) and that not too much sauce is added (particularly if it sugar, or fat).

You could replace the processed cheese with a yogurt (made of milk! It is not bad if the portion is reasonable and it can complement well a banh mi, nutritionally speaking).

Contrary to pho, the banh mi does not hydrate the body well. You can accompany it with a fresh drink while you eat such as a lime juice, coconut water or sugar cane juice.

Do the herbs added to the recipes have nutritional or health benefits (cilantro, mint, cinnamon herb, etc.)?

Aromatic herbs contain a lot of antioxidants and vitamins, whatever they are, often with a higher concentration than that found in most fruits and vegetables. It is because they smell good that they are so interesting because the aromatic molecules, the ones responsibles for the good smell, are also directly responsible for the medicinal properties of those herbs.

They have diuretic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Not only do they contain very little calories, they are an interesting source of fiber and contain phytosterols that could help, if taken in high dose, reduce the cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Very helpful to improve one’s cardiovascular health.

However, the overall daily intake is relatively small compared to other ingredients. Parsley contains three times more Vitamin C compared to oranges but you’ll need three bowls to cover the daily recommendations. Not very easy!

Still, if you consume herbs all day long at different meals, it will cover part of your nutritional needs.

I would recommend to consider them for what they are, aromatic plants. They can make your dishes more tasty and delicious. The healthy part is a bonus.

Cinnamon herb is an excellent diuretic and anti-inflammatory. Mint can help if you have nausea and it helps digesting, just like coriander.

Herbs add delicious flavour and comes with an added bonus of being good for you!Herbs add delicious flavour and comes with an added bonus of being good for you! Image Credit

Conclusion: Vietnamese recipes are healthy, but be careful with the ingredients

There is a Vietnamese paradox: even though Vietnamese food is naturally healthy, full of flavors and nutrients, the trend is towards artificially flavored, industrially processed and nutrient enriched food. Pay attention to where you eat and the ingredients used in the preparation of the dishes. A pho might be healthy somewhere because natural ingredients are used, while another one won't be as nutritionous because it uses food enhancers.

*Credit: Antoine Yvon - Dietetician/Nutritionist at the CMI Ho Chi Minh City. You can contact him for an appointment (in French). His website: www.nutrytion.fr.

References:

- Food database CIQUAL 2013

- SMILING 2013

- Food composition table for Vietnam, National Institute of Nutrition, Vietnam. 2013

- World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/publications/fr. 2014

- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2014

- L’histoire de l’alimentation. Jean-Louis FLANDRIN, Edition Fayard. 1996


Gary Dawson, General Director of Pacific Cross Vietnam, on Health Insurance

By: City Pass Guide

Gary hails from Nova Scotia, Canada and spent 27 years with Manulife before moving to Vietnam 14 years ago.

He has been in the health insurance business here with Pacific Cross for 12 years. He wanted to bring international standards of healthcare to Vietnamese people and with about 80% Vietnamese to only 20% expatriate clients, he is achieving his goals. We sat down in Pacific Cross’ District 1 headquarters to discuss the ins and outs of health insurance. I was instantly struck by his professionalism and dedication to the people of Vietnam, whom he holds in high regard.

What is your opinion of Vietnamese health insurance providers? Are they reliable only for locals, or expats as well?

I think they are all fine. The insurance companies offer proper products and are providing a service to local people. But of course you get what you pay for, if someone is on a limited budget they are likely only getting a limited service.

Are there specific types of medical problems that health insurance in Vietnam has difficulty covering?

No, the service has come a long way. I have been here a long time and have seen lots of changes for the better. The companies understand the needs of their clients and cover all eventualities.

What rights do people have in Vietnam in regards to health insurance? What are the procedures in making a claim against a decision they think unfair?

They have all the same rights as international clients abroad. In the event of a disagreement, they would go to the insurance company first. If they are unsatisfied they can then go the Ministry of Finance and then the Association of Vietnam Insurance Associations. Then there is the Vietnamese Arbitration Board and finally if all else fails, the courts. Of course, you have to have patience, things take time here, but if they work it through they will get a fair hearing. Sometimes people think they have a grievance when in reality they don’t, this gives rise to stories of unfair treatment.

Is health insurance taken through one’s employer the most affordable and safest option?

Employers’ policies are normally more affordable, but of course they, and not the end user, are in charge of things. Individual policies don’t get the same discounts but you can tailor your policy to truly suit your lifestyle and of course, it’s portable.

What are the difficulties faced by international travellers with health insurance from their home country if something happens to them in Vietnam?

International policies are written and managed under the rules of that country. If you come to Vietnam and have a claim you need to get all the information about your claim before you return home. Contact the hospital and any local agencies and get everything. Customers will have to pay first and claim later. For large claims however, the hospital will call your insurance company to check the details of your cover.

What are the biggest obstacles in the way of better health insurance in Vietnam?

I don’t think there are any obstacles at all, but people have a misguided idea on the level of charges. People need to understand that insurance costs. They need to match the budget to their requirements. Age of course is a factor, the older you get the more the premiums go up. In my view insurance is for catastrophes, the big things in life. Why claim on an insurance policy for a small treatment, it will only affect future policies.

Is health insurance widely advertised in Vietnam?

Not really, it is getting more popular among employers, but there are not many streams of distribution here. There are not many agents out in the field.

What is the government’s stance with regard to health insurance?

The government wants everyone to be taking out insurance, they promote it and they want it regulated and are active in that sense. They want consistent administration of the medical policies.

How does the cost of health insurance for expats compare with the equivalent in Western countries?

People think it’s expensive but one year’s cover here costs about the same as one month’s equivalent cover in the United States. It could be even cheaper but certain medical facilities are known to hike the price if an insurance company is involved.


Bursting at the Seams: Healthcare and Medicine in Vietnam

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Vietnamese healthcare struggles to keep up with population growth

Vietnam has one of the best hospital beds-to-inhabitants ratios in Southeast Asia, falling only behind Singapore

Hospitals in major cities in Vietnam are at 80% occupancy

The quality and availability of healthcare are critical components for people who are looking to relocate to a new city. However, not much has been said or is known about healthcare in Vietnam outside of the country. So, is the quality of healthcare in Vietnam good?

The short answer is yes, although it’s not at its best at the moment. However, it’s certainly improving.

Dealing With the Numbers of Those Seeking Healthcare in Vietnam

As with any other developing country, major cities grow rapidly, and so do their populations. This results in a strain on the infrastructure and especially healthcare facilities as authorities try to balance demand and supply.

According to Business Monitor International, healthcare expenditure in Vietnam was US$16.1 billion in 2017, making up about 7.5% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. This figure is expected to hit US$20 billion by the end of this decade, a result of changes in living standards and an ageing population.

http://images.ongbachau.vn/Images/Uploaded/Share/2015/09/30/020UTDTT.jpg

Overcrowding in hospitals, shortage of medical staff and obsolete equipments and intensive care units have been some of the problems that the healthcare sector have been dealing with.

To prove the lack of confidence in their own system, Vietnamese patients have spent close to US$2 billion seeking medical treatments abroad, according to data released by Export.gov.

Understanding The Structure of Healthcare in Vietnam

Vietnam’s healthcare works on a decentralised system where provinces, districts and communes have autonomy to implement their own healthcare policies. The organisational structure of Vietnam’s healthcare system is divided into these four groups:

CENTRAL LEVEL

Under the purview and management of The Ministry of Health, this level consists of the government healthcare sector, together with hospitals, research institutions and universities.

CENTRAL-AFFILIATED PROVINCE/CITY

A collection of hospitals and medical centres, medical colleges, nursing and pharmacy programmes.

DISTRICT LEVEL

District health centres mostly offering medical and preventative services such as vaccinations.

COMMUNE LEVEL

Focusing on primary healthcare services at a community level.

Healthcare and Medicine in VietnamImage source: shutterstock.com

In terms of quantity, Vietnam’s healthcare network actually has a sizeable number of hospitals across the country. As of figures from 2017, there are about 1,160 public hospitals, in branch, provincial and national levels. However, 75% of these hospitals were built more than 20 years ago. There are also about 185 private hospitals scattered across the various cities bringing the total number of beds to over 200,000, or an average of 22 beds per 10,000 people.

Regionally, Vietnam has one of the best beds-to-inhabitants ratio compared to its neighbours, falling only behind Singapore which has an average of 27 to 10,000. However, while the figure may seem good on paper, it glosses over another important factor: the occupancy rate.

Are Vietnamese Hospitals Bursting at the Seams?

Vietnamese hospitals have been exceeding the 80% threshold occupancy rate set by the World Health Organisation. The worst hit are its national-level hospitals in the major cities which have hit occupancy rates far exceeding 100%.

In 2009, K Hospital hit a record 250% occupancy rate and more recently, Vietnam National Cancer Hospital registered an occupancy rate of 172%, Bach Mai Hospital at 168% and Cho Ray Hospital at 139%.

Although the reasons for overcrowding in hospitals can be pinned on a variety of reasons from population numbers to inefficiency, another reason is simply down to the general mindset towards the system.

Patients living in rural areas would rather take a 50km journey to a national-level hospital in the city than to a smaller hospital within their province as they feel the quality of care would be much better.

Healthcare and Medicine in VietnamImage source: sakurahanoi.com

Every efficient and demanding public service system requires a huge, well-trained workforce. Unfortunately, Vietnam’s healthcare industry is facing problems here too. With a shortage of doctors and nurses tending to the huge number of patients every day, many of them are overworked, with stressful conditions and relatively low wages.

According to Dr. Tran Quoc Khanh, Resident Doctor at Vinmec Hanoi and Spine Surgeon at Viet Doc Friendship Hospital, he believes the number of patients he has seen in his hospitals could be higher than in many other parts of the world.

“Did you know we had about 67,000 surgeries in Viet Duc Friendship Hospital in 2018 alone? Not many hospitals around the world has reached that amount and there were also a few surgeries that lasted between 4 to 10 hours”, he said.

He also added that one of the critical resources all hospitals need is blood. “No matter how good the doctors are, or how advanced technology is, no matter how well-trained the medical staff is, if there’s not enough blood, we will never be able to keep the patient alive”. He added that demand for blood has always been high at Viet Duc Friendship Hospital.

Public hospitals in Vietnam rely largely on a State budget to maintain and upgrade their facilities, equipment and services. Even though the budget has increased in recent years, it’s still struggling to keep up with modern day demands.

Healthcare and Medicine in VietnamImage source: tiepthidautu24h.vn

Other factors affecting the confidence of residents in Vietnam’s healthcare sector are the shortage of medical equipments for critical care, as well as the wide availability of pharmacies, which has turned out to be a double-edged sword: patients who start relying on self-medication for small ailments to save a trip to the hospital. As previously reported, the practice has created powerful new antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Vietnam Plans its Way Forward

In 2014, Vietnam issued Decision 68, a national strategy to develop the country’s pharmaceutical industry by 2020. The plan under this strategy is to gradually replace imported medicines with domestically produced ones, keeping medicines available and affordable.

Decision 68 also covers public health, preventative medicine and primary care systems. According to the plan, the target by 2020 is to have 25 hospital beds, with at least eight physicians and two pharmacists available for every 10,000 people.

The total number of hospital beds has increased from 209,485 in 2011, to 254,885 in 2016. The government has highlighted the growing demand for beds by also increasing the share of private beds to 20% of the total beds by 2020, affording a higher quality of care for patients by building new private hospitals through public-private partnerships.

Looking Outwards

Besides strengthening the industry through domestic production, Vietnam is also embarking on foreign investments of up to 100% in healthcare establishments, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and medical training units.

These include hospitals, polyclinics and specialised clinics; homecare and nursing services; emergency evacuation services; and all activities related to pharmaceutical production and medical devices from manufacturing, testing and storage. Only distribution is not covered in this plan.

Healthcare and Medicine in VietnamImage source: nganhangphapluat.vn

Investors can also set up a vocational training unit or even a university for medical training and educational purposes either privately, or through public-private partnerships.

Taking Hospital Technology Into the Future

One way to curb the healthcare industry’s problems is through the use of technology. The government has begun piloting new systems which could potentially integrate healthcare with the internet of things.

One of the new systems is a Swedish-based single electronic medical record which communicates with a Microsoft-developed, cloud-based patient information system, entirely mobile and cloud-based.

Healthcare and Medicine in VietnamImage source: careplusvn.com

Another system consists of wireless medical device packs, the size of a small suitcase. These packs include devices for measuring blood pressure, blood glucose, a 12-channel ECG, stethoscopes, thermometers, dermoscopes and other rapid tests. The tele-assessment apps within these packs communicate directly with clinicians in hospitals situated in urban areas and are saved to a single electronic medical record and processes pre-analysis work for clinicians to make assessments.

While it’s still not clear if the goals set out for Decision 68 will be achieved, what is certain is that the healthcare industry is not just growing in numbers, but there is also a huge potential for businesses and investments, something that could propel Vietnam’s healthcare sector to be among the continent’s best.

Banner Image source: shutterstock.com


Tooth Loss in Vietnam: How to Prevent it

By: City Pass Guide

It’s a familiar sight in Vietnam: an elderly person chatting and smiling, with a few noticeable holes where tooth decay has taken its toll. If you don’t have any problems with your teeth, thank your lucky stars. You might not think about oral health often, but in many ways it’s a major key to your quality of life.

toothImage source: mimokhair365.files.wordpress.com

Where would you be if you couldn’t eat your food properly? If your jaws hurt and ached with every chew? If you had to endure a smile with empty gaps, marking the places a molar or a canine has fallen out?

Over the age of 60, these concerns often turn into a reality—especially in Vietnam. A survey in 2010 showed that the average 20-year-old in Vietnam has lost one tooth, and citizens over the age of 80 endure life without an average of eight teeth.

Even more tragic? There’s no reason to expect bad teeth as we grow older: with a few precautionary measures, it’s entirely possible to retain all of your teeth into the winter of your life.

Why Do People Lose Teeth?

One of the common misconceptions is that tooth decay is a natural process of ageing. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, tooth loss and periodontal disease stem from a combination of causes—in particular, lazy hygiene (brush your teeth and floss!), lifestyle factors (smoking is a chief cause) and, more often than not, delaying regular checkups.

toothImage source: aboutsmileskids.com.au

So, if you don’t go to the dentist often, chances are your teeth will decay. But here’s the interesting part: if you stay vigilant and get a dental check-up every six months after you turn 60, you’ll actually need the doctor less!

Regular check-ups with a dental consultant who understands good oral health will nip potential infections in the bud and give you on-the-spot treatment for any issues that arise. The trick is, you need to find a dentist well-versed in geriatric treatments, who won’t charge an arm and a leg.

Good Health Means Good Options

Why do we know so much about geriatric tooth loss? Because we’ve made it our business to know, and to care.

Dr. Lam from Elite Dental, a celebrated professional in his field with a PhD earned in France, has made himself the foremost expert in geriatric dentistry in Ho Chi Minh City, taking particular passion in patients without teeth.

Last year, he researched 20 cases of complete edentulous (total tooth loss), and has made ground-breaking research in an effort to fight it: Pro Arch, a four-part implant that literally gives patients a second chance at oral health.

The professionals at Elite Dental don’t have just one way to restore an individual’s teeth to their former glory. Depending on each case, and each person’s budget, we might recommend a dental bridge to restore missing teeth or a dental implant to restore complete tooth function. Each unique case deserves the attention and professionalism on which we pride ourselves.

toothImage source: echofamilydental.com

Dental implants are a last resort once all other options have failed. Preventative measures are by far the better option, and by far the easiest and least expensive. There’s only one step to this process: book a dental check-up every six months!

Our Tips for Life-Long Healthy Teeth

1. Quit smoking

Smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs—it also introduces harmful chemicals into your mouth. These increase bacteria levels, as well as your chance for periodontal disease.

2. Keep up with your hygiene regimen

A bit of a no-brainer, but worth mentioning nonetheless. If you leave food hiding in your teeth, chances are it’ll lead to tooth decay.

3. If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out

If you think a sore mouth is just a sign of ageing, think again. Nobody has to suffer with bad teeth, so nip the infection in the bud!

4. If you do experience tooth loss, don’t panic

If you lose a tooth despite your best efforts, we know what to do. From tooth implants to dental bridges, we’ll make sure your smile is whole again.

5. Get regular check-ups

The top reason for bad tooth health is neglect, so this one can’t be overstated. If you’re over 60, we recommend seeing a dentist every six months.

Contact:

Location 1: 51A Tu Xuong, D3

Location 2: 57A Tran Quoc Thao, D3

Phone: 028 7306 3838 | Website:  elitedental.com.vn

Email: inquiry@elitedental.com.vn; info@elitedental.com.vn

Banner image source: c1.staticflickr.com


Zika Virus Rampant in Vietnam

By: Aleksandr Smechov

On 26 March, 2016, a 64 year old woman in Nha Trang began feeling symptoms such as headache, mild fever, skin rash and red eyes. Two days later she was admitted to a hospital, and tested positive for Zika on 31 March. Four hundred and twenty kilometres away, on the same day, a 33 year old woman in Ho Chi Minh City also tested positive for Zika. On 4 April, test results for both women were confirmed, marking the first documented cases of the Zika virus in Vietnam.

To date (25 November), Vietnam has had over 70 cases of Zika, 65 of them here in Ho Chi Minh City. While the disease itself is not fatal, it has been linked to cases of microcephaly in newborns whose mother had been infected with Zika during pregnancy. This genetic mutation causes arrested brain development and smaller head size in infants.

In 2015, Brazil had a staggering 497,593 to 1,482,701 suspected cases of the virus, with 2,100 newborns affected by microcephaly. Currently, nine pregnant women in Ho Chi Minh City have contracted Zika; out of these, there was one healthy birth and one miscarriage. The rest are currently being monitored.

Picture by: e.vnexpress.net

However, Vietnam officials are investigating only the third case of microcephaly, and have yet to confidently link the prenatal mutation to the Zika outbreak, since the current Asian strain may not be the same one that hit Brazil. In Malaysia, both an older Southeast Asian strain and one found in the Americas have been found, suggesting that in some countries both strains are circulating.

Symptoms are often mild, and death is almost non-existent (Brazil reported six, not including infant deaths and stillbirths). Patients get better after about a week. In some instance, Guillain-Barré syndrome – an autoimmune disorder that leads to weakness, numbness and eventual temporary or permanent paralysis – has been shown to have a possible link to Zika.

Zika was first identified in 1947 in monkeys in Uganda, and later in humans in 1952. The first breakout was reported in 2007 on Yap, a Micronesian island in the western Pacific Ocean. In the 50 years preceding this, only 14 cases had ever been reported. About 73% of the island’s residents were infected.

Julius Lutwama, head of the Uganda Virus Research Institute’s arbovirology department, said:

“Nobody knows where [Zika] first came from. It has been in many forests for ages, from West Africa to East Africa and in Asia. The only thing that happened is that it was first identified in Uganda in April 1947.”

The mosquitos carrying Zika cannot fly more than 400 metres, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus is spread through humans having sexual contact or blood transfusions, or infected mosquito eggs carried over to different areas or even countries. Mosquitoes with Zika often lay their eggs in stagnant water. One idea is that fishing boats carried over larvae to Yap during the first widespread outbreak.

 

Most of the time, infected carriers show no symptoms, causing a delayed response from authorities as the disease quietly turns into an epidemic.

This year has seen Southeast Asian countries hit hard with Zika, with 680 cases in Thailand and 450 in Singapore. These countries, along with Vietnam, the Philippines, Pakistan, and others, are along the “dengue belt”, where populations are more susceptible to mosquito-borne diseases.

While Zika cases do not seem to be slowing down in Vietnam, WHO announced on 18 November that the outbreak is not considered a world public health emergency.

"The Zika virus remains a highly significant and long term problem, but it is not any more a public health emergency of international concern," said Dr. David Heymann, the emergency committee chair for WHO. Despite the statement, the organization did not turn its back on the risk the virus posed.

"We are not downgrading the importance of Zika, in fact by placing this as a longer term of program of work, we're sending the message that Zika is here to stay and WHO's response is here to stay in a very robust manner," said Dr. Peter Salama, the director of WHO's health emergencies program.

Picture by: UNclimatechange

Not everyone sees in line with WHO’s Zika statement. "I think the international response to Zika has been lethargic, and with WHO's action to call off the global emergency, it has provided reason for governments and donors to pull back even more," said Lawrence Gostin, a global health and law expert from Georgetown University.

Currently, there is no cure for Zika. The Ministry of Health in Vietnam suggests people practice safe sex to prevent the spread of Zika, and avoid mosquitos as best as possible, especially if pregnant. Ho Chi Minh City’s health department allocated six special task forces to identify new Zika cases, spray insecticide and warn households to remove any stagnant water that may attract mosquitos.

Head photo by: Sanofi Pasteur


How to Stay Healthy in Vietnam

By: Keely Burkey

Avoid Secondhand Smoke

This might be tough in a country in which half of the men and 5 percent of the women smoke. It’s estimated that 47 million people are affected by secondhand smoke, and this carries many of the same health risks as lighting up yourself. Being regularly exposed increases your chances of stroke and ups your cardiovascular disease risks by a whopping 20 to 30 percent! Our advice: avoid bars without proper ventilation, and wear your traffic mask as you’re walking through the city.

healthyImage source: hellobacsi.com

Wear a Good Traffic Mask

Speaking of clean air: not all traffic masks are created equal. If you think your surgical or cloth mask will protect you, think again. While they might protect against large dust particles, everything else will be able to sneak in. To protect yourself from the 0.3-2.5 micrometre particles, the most dangerous particles of all, invest in a high-quality, filtered mask with a suction seal. AQ Blue makes these well, as does Vogmask.

Avoid Driving

Yep, sorry. We know you love your motorbike, but the truth is the truth: traffic accidents kill more people in three years than pandemic diseases do in 100 years. A staggering 14,000 people die on the roads every year in Vietnam, making it the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29. Try to embrace public transport instead, or walk if your destination isn’t too far (but be careful crossing the street).

healthyImage source: saigonbus.com.vn

Be Careful with Medication

The over the counter medication culture is strong in Vietnam, and there are downsides. Antibiotics are routinely used to fight common maladies like colds and flus. Although these are caused by viruses, against which antibiotics are actually ineffective, you’re increasing the chance for all sorts of bacteria to become stronger and medicine-resistant in the future. A World Health Organisation report listed Vietnam as one of the world’s top countries for antibiotic resistance, meaning that bacterial infections might become more powerful. So, for a common flu or cold, take care of it the old fashioned way.

Cool it with the Air Conditioner

There are two sides to this coin: on the one hand, heavy air conditioner use has been linked to nasal congestion, breathing problems, headaches, fatigue and irritated skin. On the other hand, it also filters out some of the harmful pollutants in the air, a particularly welcome trait in Ho Chi Minh City. So, try not to overdo it. A simple fan can work just as well.

healthyImage source: tintre.net

Avoid the Cheap Alcohol

The next time you’re in a convenience store and get lured into the seemingly amazing sales at the liquor section, think twice: that bottle of Jim Bean for VND70,000 is, most likely, low-grade grain alcohol. This year there have been a few particularly alarming cases of methanol poisoning, and some 382 people have been poisoned by unsafe alcohol in the past decade, 98 of whom have died. Think about the price before ordering your next tequila shot. Does it seem too good to be true? Then it probably is.

healthyImage source: thespruce.com

Banner Image source: eyeem.com

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