Perhaps most importantly, Viet Nam was one of the first countries to develop affordable test kits and export them to Europe. By early March, three different teams produced test kits that cost less than $25 and provided results within 90 minutes.
The speed of innovation-to-production was thanks to:
1. Innovation on top of existing approaches. The Viet Nam Academy of Science and Technology, as well as the Institute of Military Medicine (IMM), used the RT-LAMP technique (reportedly already developed by the WHO and the American CDC). Meanwhile, the University of Technology, Hanoi, decided to go with the RT-LAMP technique. This kit is the first in the world to be based on RT-LAMP.
2. The Vietnamese Government acting early to bring together relevant groups and resources, to instigate widespread efforts. At the end of January, Viet Nam’s Ministry of Science and Technology organised a meeting on COVID-19 with virologists around the country. Here, the IMM was commissioned to develop a test kit, for which they used patient lab samples from the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology.
3. The state quickly formulating a shared mission around COVID-19, uniting different ministries, research organisations and civil society. As a result, a greater share of the population was able to get tested. The Government also mobilised civil society by encouraging people to follow instructions and take precautionary measures, thus giving them a shared mission of identifying potential cases.
4. The private sector and universities collaborating. IMM’s kit was commercialised by a company called Viet A, at an expected production rate of 10,000 kits/day. So far, the IMM Viet A test kit has been sold and exported to Malaysia, Iran, Finland and Ukraine – with 20 other countries placing orders.
What can we learn from Viet Nam’s response
Viet Nam’s ability to mobilise a widespread response to the COVID-19 crisis offers helpful insights into the broader issue of the pandemic and state capacity.
Actors, all relying on public funding of different forms, very quickly developed affordable, and accurate, test kits. In addition to funding, it seems that the Vietnamese Government crucially instigated research into responses through its convening of virologists across the country in January 2020. Equally, hospitals were effective in sending in samples for research.
This shows that the state is the ultimate convener and mobiliser. By coordinating across researchers, hospitals and civil society, the state-as-mobilizer can set the environment for innovation.
By acting early and decisively to put COVID-19 testing on the research agenda, states, like Viet Nam, can pave the way for the crucial innovations that can ultimately prove their capacity to protect citizens.
*For her research, Dr Robyn Klingler-Vidra worked with colleagues Ba Linh Tran and Ida Uusikyla in Viet Nam. Read further details in a paper published by the Global Policy journal or this article published by The Conversation.