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Vietnam 2013 Letter Home
Written by: The students of Health & Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care Track 2
Dear IHP Friends & Family,
Today is our final day in Vietnam, so we wanted to share what our experience has been like with you.
Once all of us settled into our homestays and recovered from jetlag following our 30-hour trek around the planet, we dove right into learning all about Vietnam’s healthcare system. Our guest lecturers and readings helped us understand the historical, economic, political, and cultural factors that contributed to the rise of the healthcare system of Vietnam as it exists today. We learned that Vietnam had provided free healthcare to all its citizens until a series of harsh events in the 1980s that led to the need for an economic “renovation,” Doi Moi in Vietnamese. During this time, Vietnam rapidly transitioned from hosting a command economy to more of a market-driven economy. We learned that alongside radical economic reforms came an overhaul of the Vietnamese healthcare system. What changed primarily were the legalization of private medical practice and the unregulated sale of pharmaceuticals, as well as the introduction of user fees and health insurance plans. Throughout the rest of our program in Vietnam we explored how these changes from a purely public healthcare system to a mixed private/public one, along with all of these other elements, has come to influence public health in Vietnam.
Very quickly into our time here, it became apparent just how prominent traditional medicine is in Vietnam. During the first couple of weeks, we not only visited the Hanoi School of Traditional Medicine, but also wandered around a street in the old quarter full of traditional medicine shops. At the Hanoi School of Traditional Medicine, we were given an overview of how traditional medicine is used to supplement modern medicine in the national health system and given a tour of the facilities. During our tour, we were taught about acupuncture and various herbs and their uses. Toward the end, a few of us had a picture of our tongues taken to be analyzed by the doctors (some were feeling too hot, others had problems with the digestive tract), and one member from our group was given acupuncture to work on his back pain. Later that week at the traditional medicine shops, we split into groups and asked multiple shopkeepers how they might go about treating various ailments that interested us. One group bought a bag of dandelion leaves, which makes a great tea. However, our encounters with traditional medicine were not contained to these two visits. Throughout our stay here, we continuously learned about differences in the use of traditional medicine from setting to setting.
We were lucky enough to discover some of the most charming parts of Hanoi through our studies. We held some classes at an independent cinematheque that film aficionados and curious tourists alike can appreciate. This cinematheque shows documentaries by Vietnamese filmmakers as well as foreign films. It is located near Hanoi's famous old quarter, where many of us tried our bargaining skills as we purchased everything from pants to bags to funky sunglasses. At night on the weekends, the old quarter is also home to the night market and some of Hanoi's trendiest clubs.
One of the main activities with our homestay families and around the city was eating! The food here is delicious and cheap. The streets are full of tiny stands that sell bun cha, which is a thin noodle that you dip in fish sauce with meatballs. Then there are the banh mi sandwich places that are on every corner, so you can get fried eggs, pickled veggies, and chili sauce all wrapped up in a hot bun. There is also the classic dish that we all eat daily, pho. Pho is either beef or chicken noodle soup. It's typical to add chili or lime to flavor it. All of these meals can be accompanied by bars of ice cream or fruit juices as we fight the heat.
Even with all of these opportunities in Hanoi, we were excited to explore the rest of the country during our spring break. The small country of Vietnam holds something of interest for everyone, with city-lovers going to Ho Chi Minh City, beach lovers to the shores of Da Nang, and those with a love of adventure taking overnight trains to places like Hoi An and Hue, which are known for their remote beauty. Everyone returned from their trips refreshed and ready for South Africa.
The students of Health & Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care Track 2
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