” The United States proudly supports scientific research with partner institutions in Vietnam with the goal of supporting sustainable development and informing future policy decisions. With a focus on human health and the environment, USAID’s Research Community Workshop aims to 1) inform participants of the opportunities to participate in Vietnam’s research initiatives, 2) share information on the status and findings of ongoing and completed research efforts, and 3) expand the research community’s network and strengthen the role scientific evidence plays in the design and implementation of public policy.” -USAID, 2017

During a public forum Tuesday, August 8th in Hanoi, Vietnam, USAID officials commented on the state of currently funded projects across the country. The congressionally funded mission in Vietnam is quite large and encompasses two main objectives; Health and Environment. Poster presenters from USAID fellowships included Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), Research and Innovation (RI), and Association of South East Asian Nations (AESEAN). Presenters (including myself) were able to spend around an hour speaking interactively with a crowd of about 120 attendees. My poster was among the health presentations and a brief interview about my research was featured on a local news channel. Among the attendees were US Embassy employees, local researchers, and a handful of different live press cameras (big time!). Notable attendees included Scott Bartos, The Environment Officer of USAID, Kingdom of Thailand’s Ambassador to Vietnam, His Excellency Manopchai Vongphakdi, and Ted Osius, The U.S. Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Vietnam is in a state of change; with a thriving and rapidly improving economy comes a shift in priorities and funding strategies. This is typical of developing nations as they adopt new technologies and innovations. Vietnam has moved from a lower class to a lower-middle class economy. While that is fantastic news from the country perspective, it does mean that funding from sources like USAID are beginning to thin, and rightfully so. After all, the best measure of success in a project is when it can be handed off from the “teacher” to the “student” to be implemented as a local initiative with local buy-in. I can only hope to have the same measure of local recognition, adoption of needs and responsibilities, and support for initiatives in Integrated Behavioral Health.

It seems that some of the current USAID projects are ready to be handed off to the local economy/government/people for adoption. Additionally, the burden of disease is shifting away from communicable diseases to non-communicable diseases (NCD’s). One place we will begin to see change in funding streams will be in procurement of supplies and medicine in HIV and AIDs treatment. One key priority in helping Vietnam adjust to the new demands on the healthcare system during this funding shift is to move forward with a socialized health insurance model.

After the morning forum and workshop, USAID awarded researchers had the opportunity to sit with USAID Mission Directors to talk about strategies, burdens, challenges and successes facing the research community in Vietnam. I sat with John Ares, Health Mission Director, and discussed the emerging need for NCD research and treatment. He and a few CDC Vietnam doctors (who were also present at the roundtable) agreed that while NCD needs are now becoming more visible, the focus for funding remains on HIV/AIDS (with funding of 28 million annually), and emerging pandemic control (6-8 million annually). Regardless of that focus, there is interest in health systems strengthening for things like hospital record keeping to improve long-term management of diseases. I am confident that the work I will be doing here in Vietnam will contribute to the body of knowledge which will pave a way forward to better systems of care for prevention, treatment and management of all diseases, NCD’s included.

Other Notable Presentations of current USAID projects:

  • “Fighting transboundary wildlife trafficking with DNA barcoding.” Dr. Minh Le, Vietnam National University
  • “Linking Science to policy for sustainable water management and disaster mitigation.” Dr. Duong Du Bui, Deputy Director of the Water Monitoring Department, Vietnam Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Toward Sustainable Food Systems Profiles for Decision Makers.” Julia Rubin, University of California