DIEN BIEN PROVINCE, Vietnam—In many regards, Vietnam is a success story. It’s graduated from low-income to lower-middle-income status over the past 25 years. Poverty rates have dropped from 58 percent to 20 percent. Its health system is expansive, with an exhaustive immunization program; coverage is in the 90th percentile for most vaccinations. (Though the country did encounter a setback last year with an unexpected measles outbreak, it was able to quickly address the issue and regain control.) Many of Vietnam’s vaccines are produced at a state-run facility, saving the country millions in hard currency. The nation has met five of the 10 Millennium Development Goals, and the World Bank says it has “one of the strongest results records of any World Bank borrower.”
Nonetheless, geographic pockets throughout Vietnam lag behind. In a country of 90 million, Dien Bien’s relatively small population of about 500,000 consists of 80 percent ethnic minorities—and a significant portion live in remote, mountainous areas that are hard to reach. Though blessed with natural beauty, the region struggles to match the health achievements of the urban center. Here, nearly 40 percent of households live in poverty, and one in three children is malnourished. The rough terrain, coupled with limited options for livelihood (most residents are farmers), make Dien Bien an ongoing challenge for the Vietnamese government’s health care system.
But midwives, local clinicians, and nonprofit organizations are tackling these inequities and making progress. The following images were taken in the provincial hospital and a remote clinic outside of Dien Bien Phu, the largest city in the province. The Ministry of Health has partnered with UNICEF to concentrate on Dien Bien and has received support from Luxembourg and Japan to carry out maternal and infant health care programs.