Tag Archives: Vietnam Health

Conquering Health-Conscious Vietnam

Vietnam is quietly emerging as a center of health-conscious consumption — with surging marketing and manufacture of so-called functional foods: products intended to provide both nutritional and health benefits.

Local media report 1,800 functional food makers and distributors — including American companies Amway, NuSkin, Unicity and Herbalife — are selling 10,000 products in Vietnam, and business is booming.

Herbalife says the Vietnamese market contributed significantly to its $4.8 billion in global sales last year.  Unicity reports its success in Vietnam is above expectations.  NuSkin reported 30% growth last year in Vietnam and projects 33% this year by conquering the central Danang market.

Amway’s second factory in Vietnam is expected to produce 24,000 products valued at $200 million starting early next year.  The company began cultivating the Vietnam market in 2008 and last year generated $90 million in revenue, a one-year increase of 14%.

Vietnam is a lucrative and growing market for functional food because its consumers tend to be educated, health conscious, and concerned about obesity, cardiovascular health and physical beauty.  The Vietnam Supplement Food Association reports 56% of Hanoi residents and 48% in Ho Chi Minh City use functional food.

Even more important to American companies, the ASEAN free trade agreement that takes effect next year will facilitate the export of products they make in Vietnam to Southeast Asia’s 600 million consumers.

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Vietnam’s Outbreak of Measles and Outrage

Says another: “How many more children have to die before you declare an epidemic?  If you still have some dignity, please resign and give the position to someone else with better qualifications and more willingness to do the job so that the people will suffer less.”

Other Internet comments suggest health officials are downplaying the crisis because of Vietnam’s  commitments to eradicate measles by 2017 — inspiring this caustic Facebook post:  “Through this we can see how talented our health minister is—too talented. Her motto is listening to no one, knowing nothing, seeing nothing.”

Criticism escalated when Tien seemed to minimize the undeclared epidemic by contending only 25 deaths were technically attributable to measles, even though scores children have died as a result of measles-related complications such as pneumonia.

The World Health Organization says it is “very concerned” about the outbreak, partly because WHO and UNICEF undertook an apparently less-than-successful vaccination campaign to eliminate measles from Vietnam by 2012.

In the age of the Internet, the message for Vietnam is the same as that for government agencies worldwide:  Google knows and Facebook shares.

 

Vietnam’s Hard Line on Soft Drinks

Vietnam isn’t being very hospitable to two of its most prominent American multi-nationals.  Starting next July, the finance ministry wants to impose a 10%  tax on carbonated soft drinks — which is to say Coke and Pepsi.

The rationale is these beverages are harmful to public health, just like other products consumers want — but which health officials don’t want them to have — like  cigarettes and alcohol.

The new tax is getting criticism from foreigners who are thinking more about profits than health.  A consultancy that focuses on global interests in Vietnam says the tax will hurt consumers and the local sugar industry, retail distribution system and retailers.

The American Chamber of Commerce, whose members include Coke, Pepsi, Miller beer, Philip Morris tobacco, Dow chemical and other companies that give Vietnamese health officials pause, calls the proposed tax unfair to consumers.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese officials aren’t in agreement with each other.  The Viet Nam Tax Consultancy Association favors the tax, but the Central Institute for Economic Management suggests it would be counterproductive — bringing in $8.4 million tax revenue but costing the beverage industry $41 million and Vietnam’s economy $12 million because demand for soft drinks would decline 28%.

The proposed tax is testing Vietnam’s Communist Party ideal of creating an enduring socially responsible free enterprise economy.  That won’t be easy to do as the country opens its door ever wider to the global marketplace.

The Americanization of Vietnam’s Food

McDonald’s has been in business for one month in Vietnam, and it’s already clear the culinary culture of this leading producer of rice and seafood has changed forever.  Just one restaurant served 400,000 customers in the month after the grand opening on Feb. 8.

So far, the Saigon McDonald’s served 61,980 Big Macs for $2.84 apiece, well above the daily income of a typical Vietnamese rice farming family.

This is just the beginning.  McDonald’s is the latest chain to join the fast-food reformation of Vietnam’s diet, but it should have no problem surpassing Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen,  KFC, Subway, and others.

In part, that’s because the owner of the McDonald’s franchise has the political clout to get things done; he’s the prime minister’s son-in-law who, like McDonald’s itself, is a Chicago native.

McDonald’s Vietnam owner Henry Nguyen spent two summers as a teenager working at McDonald’s in Chicago before moving to Ho Chi Minh City a decade ago and ultimately impressing McDonald’s as “the ideal mix of business acumen, proven record, passion, and ability.”

Similarly, Vietnam’s hunger for American products and culture makes it an ideal market for McDonald’s — as it is for American soft drink, alcohol, tobacco, and other brands that are contending with legions of skeptical consumers at home.

The Cost of Living with Big Macs in Vietnam

Now that McDonalds opened its first restaurant in Vietnam this month, it will take a while to measure the effect on Vietnamese consumers — hungry for all things American but leery of the potential health consequences.  But the fast food giant already has made a significant contribution to anyone considering living in or visiting Vietnam — thanks to Big Macs.

The entry of the company’s trademark oversized hamburgers on the streets of Saigon has immediately made Vietnam a member of The Economist’s Big Mac Index.  The index is an elegant (though obviously imprecise) measurement of purchasing power in countries where McDonalds sells Big Macs.

So now we know that the Big Mac sells for the equivalent of $2.84 in Ho Chi Minh City, considerably less than the $4.62 price in the US.  By comparison, the extremes in Big Mac pricing are $7.80 in Norway and $1.54 in India.  The Economist arrives at those numbers by dividing the price charged at McDonald’s by the official exchange rate of the country; In Vietnam, consumers pay 60,000 Vietnamese dong for a Big Mac, and the Economist used 21,090 as the exchange rate.

What’s interesting about this is that the index indicates the actual cost of living in Vietnam — as opposed to the implied cost you get from the official exchange rate.  In this case, it suggests Vietnam is much cheaper than you’d expect.  In fact, if a Big Mac (and presumably everything else) cost as much in Vietnam as in the US, we’d be getting 12,975 VND for our dollar rather than the 21,090 the bank offers.

Purchasing Power Parity is a relatively good way of understanding the true cost of living in a foreign country, but it is tends to be subject to the biases of whoever calculates it.  The Big Mac Index is a convenient way to demonstrate that Vietnam is an inexpensive place to live — at least until McDonald’s raises its prices there.

The Problem With Curious Boys in Vietnam

People who visit Vietnam for the first time often comment on the ingenuity they witness on the street as curious craftsmen and repairmen work magic with their hands.  But every day, it seems, curiosity ends in tragedy.

Today’s tragedy is about three boys who were tinkering with a land mine left over from the war that they found on a construction site near the central Vietnamese city of Danang.  It was mid-morning, and the boys were taking explosives out of the mine casing when their curiosity took both of Phan Van Hieu’s hands.  He’s 11 and recovering in a hospital.  The boys suffered other injuries as well.

Authorities in Vietnam are well aware of the danger unexploded ordnance poses to  people in the countryside, especially curious boys.  In this case, the area where Hieu was hurt was a former military base that supposedly had been cleared of mines before people were allowed enter it.  But you can’t always get every mine.

It’s estimated that more than 16 million acres (one fifth of Vietnam) contain 800,000 tons of unexploded bombs, shells and landmines — concentrated in six central provinces and the city of Hue.

Since 1975, unexploded ordnance has killed more than 40,000 people and injured 60,000.  That’s a relentless human toll of more than 3 deaths and 4 injuries a day.

Vietnam’s Approach to Gender Roles at Work

About the time the Vietnam/American War ended, American women started progressing toward gender equity in the workplace, and now it’s hard to imagine the US government doing what Vietnam just did:  banned employers from hiring women in 77 job categories.  

Effective Dec. 15, Vietnam’s new labor decree is aimed at protecting women’s health.  It prohibits women from working in jobs that adversely affect their  reproduction and child raising duties as well as jobs that require frequent submersion in water.  The list includes metal processing, oil well drilling, gas exploration, work on high-voltage power lines, repairing the exterior of tall buildings, boiler operation, and anything that involves carrying things heavier than 120 pounds.

Women also won’t be allowed to do sewer dredging, mining, underwater concrete construction, or anything that requires workers to stay in dirty and stinky water for 12 hours or more a week.

Further, women who are pregnant or raising infants aren’t allowed to do work that exposes them to electromagnets or radioactive substances, or chemicals that can cause gene mutation or cancer.  And they won’t be allowed to carry more than 50-pound objects, or work in dirty water, excessive heat, excessive cold, or stagnant air.

Some feminists might consider the new rules appalling, but they seem to reflect a profound cultural difference between East and West when it comes to acknowledging and honoring gender differences and protecting the health of not only women but also the next generation.

And anybody who wants to complain that Vietnam’s male-dominated government is being sexist will have to explain why the country’s males will be ending up with most of the dirty work.