When you think of Vietnam, you may have romantic visions of the old Indochine, an Oriental empire of ancient cathedrals and picturesque rice fields. More likely, you remember the Vietnam War, a tragedy that left an indelible mark on a generation.
Emerging from its post-war fatigue, Vietnam is working hard to rebuild its health infrastructure. One important way they're doing this is by strengthening and improving the capacity of the Vietnamese Nursing Association. And CNA is there to help.
Thanks to a collaborative project with the CNA International Policy and Development department, the Vietnamese Nursing Association had progressed to working in all 61 of Vietnam's provinces and has more than doubled its membership to 50,000.
"The VNA is steadily gaining ground," says Dr. Lan Tran Gien, the CNA project officer and a professor at Memorial University's School of Nursing in Newfoundland. "Now, even nurses in remote areas have a voice, are connected to the central VNA office and have opportunities for education."
The Vice-President of the VNA, Phan Duc Muc, shares Dr. Gien's enthusiasm. "The project helped equip Vietnamese nurses with the leadership skills to contribute to planning and policymaking," he says. "It also enabled the VNA to develop research used to advise the government on how to improve nursing services and provide better health care for the Vietnamese people."
Under the CNA program, half the VNA nursing leaders have received training on management and primary health care. The VNA is now lobbying their government for improved working conditions, fairer salaries and greater status, including changing their name from Y-Ta (physician assistant) to Dieu Duong (nurse).
CNA is also helping the VNA promote primary health care and community health; under the communist regime health care was decidedly hospital-based. "The VNA is lobbying the government to hire more RNs and in a wider variety of institutions," says Dr. Gien, who left Vietnam to study abroad in 1960. In Canada, the ratio of RNs to doctors is 8:1; in Vietnam it's less than 2:1.
Despite significant progress, much remains to be done. The CNA wants to help the Vietnamese develop nursing standards and a code of ethics, and push forward primary health care and HIV/AIDS initiatives. Says Dr. Gien, "All these things take time. it will be interesting to see what things are like in 10 years."