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Using Technology to Improve Health-Care Access in Vietnam

By Tiffany Hoang

This summer, I am spending five weeks in Hanoi, Vietnam, working with the Institute for Population, Development, and Health (PHAD). My responsibilities include providing support for the mMOM project, which is piloting a SMS-based program to improve maternal health for ethnic minorities. The project is centered in the mountainous area of Thai Nguyen, which is about 75 km from Hanoi.

Thai Nguyen has a significant ethnic minority population that has traditionally faced a number of challenges compared to the ethnic majority (Kinh), including receiving subpar health care, having lower income and less education, and living in more remote areas. The Vietnamese government has taken steps to try to bridge health-care gaps between the ethnic minority and majority. In the mMOM project, expecting mothers and new mothers receive SMS (text) messages with health information and reminders. With the increasing use and availability of cell phones, this project has much promise to improve maternal and child health in the ethnic minority population.

What initially drew me to this project was the use of SMS and technology to reach out to a population that has traditionally been underserved. As I am doing more research in the field, I am fascinated by the difficulties and questions that arise, such as the ability of mothers to read the SMS messages, whether the mothers are able to reach a health-care facility, and the retention rate of the information sent to the mothers. As the project continues, answers to these questions and concerns will become known.

In addition to my work with PHAD, I am shadowing physicians at the National Pediatric Hospital in Hanoi. It is the premiere pediatric hospital in the area and patients come from hours away to be treated. I will be shadowing the emergency, infectious diseases, and surgical departments. I look forward to learning more about the health care of Vietnam both through my work with the mMOM project and through observation at the National Pediatric Hospital.

On a more personal note, I have been in Hanoi for two weeks, and I am loving every minute of it. It is very different from the quiet streets of Hanover and from the bustling freeways of Los Angeles, where I am from. Motor bikes and cars stop for no one, so crossing the street is a precarious task. The food is divine. I am fortunate to do a home stay during my time in Hanoi. That means I can enjoy home-cooked Vietnamese food every day! I’ve had my fair share of bún nem rán (vermicelli noodles with egg rolls and fish sauce), cơm (rice), trái vải (lychee), trái mít (jackfruit), and much more over the past couple weeks. I am extremely excited to learn more about all aspects of Vietnamese culture over the next month!

Tiffany Hoang is a member of the Class of 2017 at Geisel.

Read more about student experiences at the Geisel Med Blog.