Liu, Ai

School of Public Health

MSPH

Viet Nam

Health, Economic And Long-term Social Impact of Injuries (HEALS)

The Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit (JH-IIRU) is currently working to develop an innovative tool and data collection approaches to assess the long-term social, economic, and health consequences of traumatic injuries in a LMIC setting.

The study has the following specific objectives:
1. To develop and implement a tool to examine the long-term health (prevalence, severity and duration of disability), social, and economic impact of traumatic non-fatal injuries;
2. To develop and implement an electronic data collection and monitoring module using the new tool for capturing traumatic injuries and following individuals over time, for use in LMICs.
3. To document pilot data on the long-term burden of traumatic non-fatal injuries in a multi-site study.

Globa Health Mentor/PI: Abdulgafoor Bachani, PhD

My GHEFP location is the capital city of Vietnam—Hanoi where I served as the student assistant for the Long-term Health Economic and Social Impacts of Injuries Study (HEALS). I was fortunate to have spent time with a welcoming research team at the Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit within Hanoi School of Public Health.

As an international student born and raised in Beijing (capital of China), I was certainly not expecting as much of a cultural shock as I arrived in Hanoi. In fact, prior to my arrival, I was under the impression that Hanoi is rather similar to Beijing. However, Hanoi, with its bustling street crowded with motorcycles and street-tea-spots, offers a distinct cultural experience that is unlike my hometown. Initially, I was simply stunned by the waves of motorbikes on Hanoi’s street and how nimble the motorcyclists are at dodging pedestrians. It took quite some time for me to blend into the flow of Vietnamese local pedestrians as I learnt to cross the street on my own time rather than waiting for the traffic light or for all the traffic to pass. Living in Hanoi and witnessing the local traffic scene first hand certainly provided me with excellent prospective as I continued on the HEALS project in which one of the main emphasis is motor vehicle accident. I wouldn't have been able to imagine people’s reliance on motorbikes and their commuting habits without my field experience. Another interesting observation that I made during my stay in Hanoi concerns the language barrier. Prior to my trip, I was anxious about not being fluent in the local language; however, Hanoi is actually quite a diverse city with many visitors and students arriving from different countries, so English and some basic Vietnamese are sufficient for communication required for daily activities.

In Vietnam, the quality of health care varies largely based on the type of facility (public or private) and the location (city versus rural). From what I learnt from the local research team, although Vietnam has governmental healthcare coverage, people often face out-of-pocket charges for private care or additional care. During my personal visit to a local hospital, I noticed that the state-owned health facility suffered from shortage of staff and the issue of overcrowding. In addition, since many medications (including antibiotics) are available over-the-counter, self-medicating practice is rather easy as people often visit the local pharmacy for common illness. This can be problematic since many pharmacists in Vietnam are not licensed practitioners. In fact, I visited a local pharmacy as I was affected by coughing and sore throat when I first arrived in Hanoi, and the pharmacist recommended antibiotics for me, which might not be appropriate considering my illness may be viral in origin. Based on my brief exposure to the Vietnamese health system, I believe it is somewhat comparable to that of my home country.

In terms of my project, I primarily focused on baseline data cleaning, processing and some descriptive analysis for the HEALS data. In most of my biostatistic courses, we were presented with clean set of data for analysis, but such pristine data rarely exists in the real world. During the project, I was able to experience the data cleaning process, and I realized the potential impact data entry and organization may have on later analysis process.  

Overall, my experience in Hanoi has been quite meaningful and valuable. Being able to be present on site allows me to become grounded in the cultural, economic and social reality of the study population, which is the essence of global health field work.

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October 2020

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