Cuba and Vietnam: Wise utilisation of limited resources to tackle COVID-19

Developing countries such as Cuba and Vietnam with socialist or communist state structure and philosophy are successfully handling the COVID-19 pandemic. What are the roles that their long term health and economic strategies are playing behind this success? MD Talebur Islam Rupom asks this question and stipulates the this is a high time that states should invest heavily in the health sectors to ensure health care for all COUNTRIES with centrally subsided or fully funded health care system are battling the COVID-19 crisis better than any other countries. There are also several other proactive reasons which makes it possible for them to decrease the fatalities and positive cases.

Cuba and Vietnam are two developing countries that have moved rapidly to deal with the emerging threat. Despite of the embargo and restrictions from the United States and limited resources, Cuba's handling of the pandemic could be a role model for others.

With a smaller economy than Bangladesh, southeast Asia’s Vietnam is also earning its credibility to restart their economy after reportedly eradicating the COVID-19 from their country even though it has its crucial boarder with China.

There are several other examples of developing countries where a better national system and adequate health care budget helping the nations to eliminate the contagious virus and open the economy. 

Since the revolution of 1959, Cuba has several advantages over many states, including universal free healthcare, the world's highest ratio of doctors to population (roughly three times higher than the United States), and positive health indicators, such as high life expectancy and low infant mortality.

Cuba’s free and universal health care system, advanced medical research industry including a robust pool of health professionals, puts the island in a better position to deal with this crisis than most countries even though its neighboring countries including the USA are in vulnerable condition with the COVID-19.

In fact, Cuba’s doctors are in top demand and the socialist nation is good at medical diplomacy. In short, Cuban doctors are serving many countries during the pandemic and historically their health workers are known for their quality and excellent treatment across the world during any natural disaster like the earthquake of Haiti and Pakistan or Tsunami of Indonesia.

However, Cuba not only trains its own doctors; it trains doctors from all over the world. The South American island of only 11 million people is home to the world’s largest international medical school, the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). Since its foundation in 1999, the school has trained over 35,000 young people from 138 countries, including the United States. It’s free of cost to study there.

On the ground level, Cuba has lack of resources, which hampers recovery from disasters, also contributes to a housing shortage that makes physical distancing difficult. And the South American island's poor infrastructure creates logistical challenges. Also, the pandemic comes at a particularly difficult time, as tightened US sanctions have sharply cut earnings from the tourism and other services, deterred foreign investment, hampered trade including medical equipment imports and obstructed access to international finance — including emergency funds. Nevertheless, the preparation of Cuba to tackle COVID-19 started in January 2020 with ‘prevention and control’ plan which included training medical staff, preparing medical and quarantine facilities, and informing the public including tourism workers about symptoms and precautions.

When the first three reported cases were confirmed on March 11, arrangements were in place to trace and isolate contacts, mobilise medical students for nationwide door-to-door surveys to identify vulnerable people and check for symptoms, and run a testing programme. After 21 positive cases, foreign tourists were ban to enter the country and lockdown was imposed countrywide with employment assurance, social assistance and provision from working home.

Furthermore, they have had shortages of face mask and assuring physical distance. That’s why they completely stopped any sort of private vehicles, rather hiring state sponsored vehicles to carry patients and health providers and also introduced online shopping which was not even prominent there.

These are similar problems like many other countries including Bangladesh. In some extent, Bangladesh is privileged not to have any economic sanction and can explore international market. Each of the test costs USD 50, very expensive in Cuba but still 39,825 tests have been done so far in a rate of 3,516 tests per million inhabitants. Apparently, they are using their limited resources from the beginning by keeping in mind the limited access to international finance.

Coming to our neighbor, Vietnam can be an absolute success story to fight against COVID-19 with zero death and only 270 cases out of its over 95 million people so far. Despite sharing a border with China, Vietnam has, with a combination of early decisive action, extensive testing, vigorous quarantining and social unity, so far avoided the devastation seen in Europe and the USA.

Official statistics show there are currently more than 100,000 people in very strict quarantine or isolation. The country has so far conducted more than 212,000 tests, from which only 270 cases were confirmed. Infection rates remain significantly lower than in South Korea, Singapore and even Taiwan, nations that have all been widely praised in the global media for their effective responses to the pandemic.

Most of the health care in Vietnam is governmental or subsided by the government which provides health facilities free of cost to its 95 per cent citizens. Only 5 per cent citizens need to pay by themselves for their treatment depending on the diseases.

Hence, the communist state has sealed its borders, quarantined masses of people, used soldiers and police to track down potential infections and fined social media users for spreading misinformation from early January. After deploying the full arsenal of a single-party state, the has now gone a full week without recording a new infection. Similarly, it has been seen in Bangladesh that law enforcement agencies including the military have been deployed with reported strictness and also controlling media whereas mostly things have not been done enough in favour of the world’s 8th most populated country.

Immediately after the outbreak in Wuhan, China, Vietnam shutdown the educational institutions, boarder and flights with China by the mid-January whereas all the international flights were suspended altogether by March 25 and mass quarantine started from mid-March. Unlike Bangladesh, the Southeast Asian country has placed extreme medical checkup in every airport and entry point of the country and its capital from early January, followed them up and assured strict quarantined the people coming from abroad.

Quarantine has been also made mandatory who have been going to another province from Hanoi, the epicentre of Vietnam outbreak. As a result, only one person has been detected positive with COVID-19 in last 12 days as of now and straight one week with zero positive case. The communist nation is gradually easing the lockdown and starting its economy. The World Bank forecasts in a worst COVID-19 case scenario that Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) will fall to 1.5 percent this year, better than most of its south or southeast Asian peers.

In the meantime, Vietnam has supplied mask and other medical equipment made in

Vietnam to many countries including Germany, Italy, Spain and old foe the USA which will eventually help them to have a great trade relation among the nations. The relationship between Vietnam and its neighbor is less sweet but sour, and also happens to compete in the global market.

So, the mask diplomacy of Vietnam and praiseworthy tackling of the pandemic will surely keep them ahead of many other countries in the near future. Notwithstanding, it will take them ahead not only of China but also of other Asian peers including Bangladesh and exporting nations with low cost labour and manufacture facilities.

On top of that, Vietnam’s role in handling the pandemic is important and a lesson for Bangladesh. Because of the boosting exporting sector with cheap labour, Vietnam is becoming the top choice for the foreign investors. In 2019, Vietnam enjoyed 8 per cent growth. Aftermath of the crisis will certainly help them to grow more and attract foreign investors.

Considering the COVID-19 situation of Bangladesh from the early threat to the present, foreign investors could shift their business to Vietnam perhaps which will impact terribly on this south Asian region. As of now, it seems evidently difficult and uncertain for Bangladesh to control the pandemic which might let the country in a lengthy process to get a grip of it.

The inappropriate and lack of necessary steps amid the outbreak earlier could cost us terribly in the long run. When other developing countries such as Cuba and Vietnam are doing great, it would be problematic for Bangladesh if the pandemic is not coming under control soon.

In a nutshell, it is also high time to make the health sector corruption free and finance more for better and accessible public health facilities in Bangladesh. Explicitly, health insurance is a basic right for a human being and it should be assured sooner than later by the state.

MD Talebur Islam Rupom is a contributor with the New Age Youth.

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