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FEATURE STORY November 5, 2018

Laughter is The Best Medicine: How Theater Helps Bridge the Gap Between a Vietnamese Commune and Their Health Clinic


The Viet Hong Commune's Medical Station in Tran Yen district, Yen Bai province

It’s a regular weekday morning in late September, but the sight in Viet Hong commune is an unusual one: around 100 villagers are gathered in front of a makeshift stage outside their health clinic to watch a play. The comedy routine worked so well, many in the audience were either bursting into laughter or tears at several points.

How can this help health outcomes? This is a tactic doctor Vuong Thi Hai Anh has learned over the summer to improve village trust in their newly improved healthcare. After the play, a question and answer session followed to address misconceptions and promote the services available at the clinic in Tran Yen district, in the mountainous province of Yen Bai.

Anh and her staff expect those in the audience to spread what they learned to other villagers and help improve overall trust in the clinic staff. The training she received over the summer was part of the Health Professionals Education and Training for Health System Reforms project (HPET), approved by the Vietnamese government in late 2013 for implementation by the Health Ministry between 2014-2020.

HPET, funded mainly by the World Bank and the European Union, aims to improve the quality of education and training for health workers, and strengthen capacity in primary health care across Vietnam's 15 poorest provinces, which can help reduce pressure on regional hospitals.

"Watching the play, we could laugh, but there were moments which also made us cry. The experience helps us to connect with the clinic staff, and people may be more inclined to visit the clinic for their health checks instead of traveling more than 30km to larger hospitals. "
Hoang Thi Thanh Huyen
from Van village


The Community Event taking place in Viet Hong commune includes a Question and Answer section, during which villagers learn more about how to take a good care of their health. They are also informed of the newly improved capacity of the medical staff working at the local medical station.


Travelling to a regional hospital, a villager normally pays at least 68,000 dong ($3) for fuel, not to mention the cost for meals and other expenses should hospitalization be needed. Yen Bai province's reported per capita income is around $100 per month.

Across Vietnam, overcrowded hospitals in major cities result from an overall lack of trust in the infrastructure of local health clinics, which sometimes run out of medicine, and where patients don’t feel as confident in the quality of the medical staff. 

A villager receives a gift after giving a correct answer during the Question and Answer section, part of a community event designed to gather local people for conveying information about health, HPET training targets and the practical purpose of HPET.

Through the project, the staff of medical stations in Vietnam's 15 poorest provinces, stretching from the Northern border to the Central Highlands, will receive a combination of long-term and short-term training courses plus on-the-job training based on their community’s health needs. Medical equipment and furniture are also being provided to clinical training sites and commune health clinics in line with national benchmarks. To date, the project has helped develop six standardized training cirrculumns for health professionals, and provided training for almost 9,000 health professionals.

"Once we can have our medical checkups performed right here, we will save the cost of the fuel for motorbikes, as we won't have to go far," Hoang Huyen, a local resident said, pointing to the clinic’s two-story building. "Such locally available checkups will help us reduce poverty as we save some money."