By David Snyder

Calling Hanoi’s 115 Emergency Center for medical assistance five years ago turned out to be a sure way not to get emergency help. Today, Hanoi’s 115 Emergency Center receives up to 90 calls a day to help the city’s sick and injured – and it is able to manage most of them thanks in part to Counterpart’s Vietnam Injury Control Program.

When the program began in 2001, Vietnam’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were struggling throughout the country. With a presence in only 10 out of 64 provinces, they were generally understaffed, undertrained and underequipped to cope with the growing patient numbers.

Starting with a pilot program in Hanoi, one of the first issues addressed was staff training. There was a general lack of trauma care knowledge among the staff and EMS personnel were inadequately trained.

“The training focused on things like intubation and using a backboard to immobilize the spine, which was not available before Counterpart provided it,” says Dr. Nguyen Van Chanh, Vice Director of the Hanoi 115 Emergency Center.  “We also learned the principles of ABC (airway, breathing, circulation), which helped us be systematic in our work. In the West, this may sound basic. But it was very helpful to us.”

Working through the University of Washington, and with initial funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a select group of Vietnamese doctors were taught how to train others in trauma care techniques used in the United States. The training sought to fill an existing gap in Vietnam, where medical students must specialize to receive the high level of training required for most emergency work, known there as pre-hospital care.

“In our medical education system we have subjects throughout the year where students are taught the basics of emergency care,” Dr. Chanh says. “But for those who want to pursue that field they have to take two more years of school. For pre-hospital care there is a vacuum.”

The doctors who took part in the U.S.-based training then used their new skills to educate the staff of medical facilities like the Hanoi 115 Emergency Center.

In addition to the specialized training, basic medical equipment – including backboards, cervical collars and medical kits – were provided. Perhaps most critical, however, was the provision of three new ambulances for the center. Their impact, explains Dr. Chanh, was immediate. “The ambulances allowed us to set up the first satellite center in the west of Hanoi. Before that it used to take very long for an ambulance to respond to an accident in that area,” says Dr. Chanh.

By 2009, with two more ambulances from Counterpart and additional funding from the Government of Vietnam, the 115 Center had opened four satellite centers in Hanoi. This allowed them to vastly expand their coverage area and improve their response times.

“Previously it took us 20 minutes on average to reach an accident site. Now, it is 12 minutes,” says Dr. Chanh. “Up until 2001 we had about 17,000 responses every year. Now we have about 30,000.”

The Hanoi 115 Center keeps 14 medical teams on duty every day, whereas before they could only staff six such teams.

Through the Vietnam Injury Control Program, the Center now has the resources to continue training staff, a more streamlined response system, and the ability to provide top quality care for its patients.

After the success in Hanoi, the EMS training program expanded out to several provinces of the country, including Hai Phong, Hung Yen, and Da Nang.

In a country where as many as 11,000 injuries occur each day, the Hanoi 115 Emergency Center may be a modest success, but it continues to have a big impact on many people’s lives.