A number of laws have been created to help the health sector remove inadequacies caused by the lack of equipment, medical supplies and medicines.
These include the Law on Medical Examination and Treatment (amended), approved by the National Assembly earlier this year; Resolution 80/2023/QH15 on extending the drug circulation registration certificate; Resolution 30/NQ-CP on ensuring drugs and medical equipment; and Decree 07/ND-CP with amendments on extending licenses to import medical equipment, drugs, chemicals.
The legal framework has helped hospitals quickly restore medical examinations and bring treatment activities back to normal.
The efforts to remove institutional difficulties in the health sector with urgent decisions and radical and long-term solutions show the positive points as well as limitations of the regulations on procurement management.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) reported that thanks to the national concentrated auction scheme, in 2022 drug prices decreased by 17.98 percent, which allowed a savings of VND1.419 trillion.
The prices of brand name drugs for most major treatment groups in Vietnam were at low levels when compared with other ASEAN countries.
The proportion of brand name drugs used at Vietnam’s healthcare facilities is 11 percent, a low level compared with the 27.1 percent of countries in Asia Pacific.
However, Vietnamese patients are at a disadvantage in accessing new drugs compared with other regional countries. In 2022, only 9 percent of new drugs were available in Vietnam (there were 460 new drugs marketed from 2012 to the end of 2021).
The problem needs to be settled, especially as Vietnam’s living standards have improved and more people are capable of paying for treatment with expensive drugs and high technologies.
Currently, more than 95 percent of beds in Vietnam belong to public hospitals. The gradual removal of institutional bottlenecks in the management of drug, medical equipment and new drug procurement under the spirit of the Law on Medical Examination and Treatment will help patients’ access new drugs and doctors’ use of advanced treatment methods.
Removing bottlenecks to access new drugs
Under current regulations, drug bidding results will be valid for drugs paid for from the health insurance fund and drugs not paid by the fund.
This means that patients with good financial capability cannot use expensive drugs per their own requests.
But the regulation only works well if the drugs are purchased with state budget funds or from the health insurance fund.
As for patients who pay for drugs themselves, not allowing them to buy the drugs they want is unreasonable, especially drugs for serious illnesses.
Changing the current scheme to increase the accessibility to drugs via drugstores within hospitals and healthcare facilities is an urgent necessity.
The draft of the Law on Bidding (amended) says for the purchase of drugs not paid by the health insurance fund, healthcare facilities will have the right to determine the form, process and procedures to select bidders.
If this is approved by the National Assembly, the current problem will be solved.
Decree 07 and Resolution 30 issued in early March helped remove obstacles and created positive changes in medical examination and treatment of hospitals.
However, in the long term, Vietnam needs a legal framework which not only fulfills the mission of taking care of people’s health, but also ensures people’s right to access the best possible drugs for treatment.
This will give doctors and patients more opportunities to access information and the studies about brand name drugs, improving their professional knowledge, and encouraging drug manufacturers in the world to make investments and transfer technology to Vietnamese pharmaceutical firms.
MOH estimates that 60,000 patients went abroad in 2018 for medical treatment and $2 billion worth of foreign currencies were brought abroad. Singapore received 30,000 Vietnamese who traveled and used medical services. Thailand has received 17,000 Vietnamese a year.
If Vietnamese patients can access the best drugs and most advanced technologies, more patients will choose to use medical treatment services in Vietnam.
This will also attract pharmaceutical firms' investment in the Vietnamese market.