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Results BriefsAugust 8, 2023

Enhanced Testing-Capacity in Quickest Time Helped Vietnam Fight COVID-19

As the COVID-19 crisis loomed in 2020, Vietnam urgently needed to expand its capacities for testing and surveillance. The World Bank’s Vietnam COVID-19 Emergency Response Project was implemented quickly—it took only six months from approval to completion and closing. This was due to the strong collaboration between World Bank teams and the Vietnamese health authorities. It exceeded its objectives in increasing testing and surveillance capacities, reducing the turnaround time for COVID-19 testing from two days to just four to six hours, and thereby greatly improving Vietnam’s capacity to respond to the pandemic.
Since the first official COVID-19 case was detected in Vietnam on January 23, 2020, we raced against time to get some understanding of what was then dubbed a mysterious virus. We did a lot of training to ramp up testing capacity nationwide. In the beginning, the turnaround time [for tests] could be up to 24–48 hours. With support from the World Bank, we provided training in diagnostic testing to more than 600 lab staff. One year later, 94 laboratories nationwide were capable of COVID-19 testing. The average turnaround time had been cut to four to six hours. I am so proud that our foundational work had enabled Vietnam to run widespread local testing. At that time, Vietnam performed more tests per confirmed case than any other countries in the world, which contributed to the country’s effective containment of the virus.
Ms. Nguyen Le Khanh Hang, Vice-Head, Department of Virology, National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE)
Ms. Nguyen Le Khanh Hang
Vice-Head, Department of Virology, National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE)


Vietnam was one of the first countries in the world to experience the emergence of COVID-19. Despite successfully containing the initial surges of the pandemic, the country faced an urgent need to bolster its capabilities for identifying and responding to COVID-19. There was a need to improve laboratory capabilities at the national and subnational levels in terms of both quality and quantity. At the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, the country had only four labs located in the four regional institutes of public health that were equipped to conduct COVID-19 tests. As a result, these labs faced overwhelming demand, resulting in significant delays in test results. This had a detrimental impact on pandemic prevention and control efforts.

World Bank–supported training sessions at the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE) increased Vietnam’s abili
World Bank–supported training sessions at the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE) increased Vietnam’s ability to test for COVID-19. Photo credit: NIHE.


To respond to the need to move quickly, the project provided investments and technical assistance to focus on three interventions: (a) strengthening the capacity of laboratory systems at Vietnam’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE), (b) strengthening the capacity of laboratory systems nationwide to respond to COVID-19 (focusing on laboratories involved in COVID-19 surveillance and testing in hospitals and provincial Centers for Disease Control nationwide), and (c) strengthening research capacity for COVID-19 vaccines and test kits (by the Center for Research and Production of Vaccines and Biologicals [POLYVAC]).

Technicians at central and provincial labs in Vietnam process COVID-19 tests. Photo credit: NIHE.
Technicians at central and provincial labs in Vietnam process COVID-19 tests.Photo credit: NIHE.


The project significantly enhanced testing and surveillance capacities in Vietnam by both expanding the number of laboratories providing testing for COVID-19 and reducing turnaround time.

  • More than 640 staff from 28 localities—most in the northern part of Vietnam, and some in the central region—attended 25 in-person training sessions delivered by leading virologists from the NIHE. They were instructed on standard procedures of sample taking, testing techniques, quality control, and laboratory biosafety.
  • Through training and equipment provided by NIHE through this project and other testing capacity-building programs, Vietnam made significant progress in expanding its testing capabilities during the pandemic period. The number of testing laboratories rose from just four in March 2020 to 94 within a year and 143 by the end of 2021. Average turnaround time to process tests fell from several days to four to six hours.
  • NIHE and POLYVAC received 167 pieces of technical equipment, including a state-of-the-art electronic microscope system, putting them in a better position to conduct genomic surveillance of pathogens and develop effective testing kits and vaccines.
  • The enhanced capacity of national laboratories and disease surveillance networks played a vital role in Vietnam’s containment efforts, keeping the caseload relatively low. NIHE actively supported provinces across the country by providing equipment and training to enhance their testing capabilities. This resulted in a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 tests conducted by the national lab alone. In 2021, the total number of samples tested reached 111,364, a significant surge from the previous year's total of 41,313 tests.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank allocated $6.3 million to this project through the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). The key contribution was the exceptionally rapid and effective support and supervision of project preparation and implementation.


The World Bank team collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) to determine what equipment to procure and what training to deliver. The technical staffs of the WHO and the US CDC helped develop standard operating procedures and trainings and provided updated information daily to support preparedness and responses.

Looking Ahead

Vietnam’s testing capacity was significantly enhanced, from around 14,000 tests a day to over 100,000 tests a day by the time the project closed. Vietnam can now respond to any emergency health event and pandemics on similar scale as the COVID – 19 pandemics.