Vietnam, a country of limited resources and much-to-be-improved health sector, has become an emerging exporter of coronavirus test kits and face masks in particular.
|Vietnam's test kits have been ordered by more than 20 countries. Photo: VNA
The question is that how a country bordering the initial global novel coronavirus epicenter – China – is able to export domestically made kits to more developed nations, including Nordic states like Finland.
Less than a month ago, Vietnam was importing Covid-19 test kits from South Korea and conducting test research with Japan. Today, Vietnam is exporting domestically made kits to richer nations, adding to a string of diplomatic gains for the Southeast Asian country that curbed the infection earlier than most, VOA reported.
Reputation does not comes overnight
After China shipped test kits overseas, for instance, nations from Spain to the Philippines disagreed on whether the Chinese kits were reliable.
Vietnam, despite its lower-middle-income status, has been able to develop the tests because of its broader experience with researching and treating tropical and infectious diseases.
Vietnam has two offices of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its own version of the CDC, along with a branch of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, and multiple branches of the Pasteur Institute, a more than century-old vestige of the country’s French colonial days.
The nation has also been working closely with the WHO, which more than two months ago sent Vietnam lab supplies that have contributed to developing the virus tests.
“Through this investment, the country now has a strong laboratory system, including for advanced molecular testing, which is required for Covid-19 detection,” Kidong Park, the WHO representative in Vietnam, said.
Notably, Vietnam is turning its attention to ventilators and vaccines, with Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam convening scientists for a meeting this week to discuss treatment.
“The research and production of vaccines is the task that requires the coordination of scientific research units in different fields,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
|Vietnam's test kits certified by WHO and the UK. Phot: VNA
Certified test kits
Last month, Vietnam’s test kits attained a seal of approval from both the World Health Organization and the UK, which gives the kits a laissez-passer to the vast European market.
The “LightPoweriVA SARS-CoV-2 kit 1st RT-rPCR Kit”, a product by Military Medical University and Viet A Technologies JSC, was granted WHO’s Emergency Use Listing procedure (EUL) code 0524-210-00, VnExpress reported.
Earlier in mid-April, Vietnamese Covid-19 test kits also received CE marking and a Certificate of Free Sale from the UK, which allows them to be sold in Europe.
The kits, which use reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), can detect the new coronavirus in droplets obtained from the respiratory tract and blood. They provide results faster and are easier to use than those used by the US CDC and WHO, according to Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology.
The quality of Vietnam’s test kits have been evaluated to be on par with that of WHO kits and CDC’s, but made-in-Vietnam products also offer other advantages including their specificity, stability, and adaptability with multiple types of testing equipment.
The results arrive in about an hour, excluding time spent on sample processing and extraction. The producer can make 10,000 kits per day.
Vietnam is one of five nations to have the kits ready for export and has received orders from 20 nations. The first batches of test kits will be shipped to Iran, Finland, Malaysia and Ukraine, according to the Ho Chi Minh City Customs Office. Vietnam has developed the two main types of Covid-19 tests used internationally, the Health Ministry said.
“False-negative results have damaging effects for the community,” VOA cited Doan Huu Thien, one of the researchers working on tests, said. “Therefore, the aim of our research is to develop a biological kit which has high sensitivity.”
|Vietnam has mobilized all fronts in fight against the pandemic. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Initial pandemic control
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has commended scientists and businesses for developing the supplies, saying Vietnam has enough for domestic use, so there is no reason it cannot ship them abroad, as well.
“We must encourage businesses that export face masks, medicine and medical equipment by providing them with the best conditions,” VOA cited the prime minister at a regular Covid-19 briefing last week.
On April 23, after three weeks of social distancing, Vietnam became the first nation in Southeast Asia to reopen its economy, surprising observers with its rapid pandemic response.
Source: Vietnam's Ministry of Health. Chart: Linh Pham
Vietnam said early testing, immediate quarantine of infected patients and their contacts, and restricted mobility helped to keep the number of cases at 270 with no deaths, compared to Singapore with 17,548 cases and 16 deaths, Indonesia with 10,551 and 800, the Philippines 8,928 and 603, Malaysia 6,176 and 103, and Thailand with 2,966 and 54.
Vietnam also tops countries for the number of coronavirus tests per confirmed cases. According to Our World in Data, the country’s rate was 966.7 on April 29, followed by Taiwan with 146.5, New Zealand 119.5, and Australia 83.6.
Keeping the viral spread limited has allowed Vietnam to make diplomatic overtures such as with the export of the Covid-19 test kits. It has also donated or sold surgical masks and medical suits abroad at a time when many nations have issued export ban on medical gear.