Featured Article

2016; Volume 17, No 9, September

Featured Article

Meeting the need for palliative care in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

IAHPC Board member, Dr. Dang Huy Quoc Thinh, is our guest writer this month.

Throughout the year, IAHPC board members contribute a range of opinion pieces and other thought-provoking articles to the IAHPC Newsletter. Dr.Thinh is Vice-Director of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Oncology Hospital in Vietnam and also Head of the Palliative Program and the Department of Radiation Oncology at the hospital.


The Palliative Care Department of Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital (HCMCOH) was set up in January 2011 in order to integrate its role into cancer care. In the past five years, we have served more than 500 inpatients, 3,000 outpatients who were admitted from other wards and other hospitals, and we have made about 200 home care visits. On top of this, we have a major role in providing education and training for hundreds of doctors and nurses in Southern Vietnam.

And just one year ago we reached a special milestone...

Dr. Thinh (right) receives the ESMO award from Dr. Florian Strasser (Chair, ESMO Palliative and Supportive Care Working Group).

In September 2015, at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress in Vienna, our palliative care unit was accredited as an ESMO Designated Centre of Integrated Oncology and Palliative Care.

Palliative home care

Launched in September 2011, the Palliative Home Care Initiative of the HCMCOH was off to a vigorous start. The program has been very well received by the public and by providers alike, with the number of visits rapidly increasing. This high degree of early success suggests that the program addresses a previously unfilled void in care. Although the providers agree that this success is gratifying, with a high rate of satisfaction among patients and families, there is very real concern that the demand for these services is likely to exceed the Palliative Care Department’s ability to supply them. For instance, demand for visits already threatens to outstrip capacity, putting additional pressure on a staff team that is already stretched thinly. Although we took rapid action by recruiting more doctors and nurses for the Department, we still could not meet the demand for home care visits. In order to have a sustainable service, we have now trained district hospitals’ doctors and nurses so that they can provide home care visits to patients living within their district. One such example is the hospital of Go Vap district. This is enabling us to plan for the future by developing a home care services network for patients with palliative care needs, and other life-threatening illness needs, that can be optimally designed to complement and enhance the existing healthcare system in Vietnam.

Education and training

Another aspect of our work is education in palliative care. We have trained hundreds of doctors and nurses via our two-week modules held twice a year, and completed three fellowship training courses in palliative medicine which were supported by the International Palliative Care Program of Harvard Medical School. We are also working with the Ho Chi Minh City Medicine and Pharmacy University and Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine to develop a Faculty of Palliative Medicine to train medical students, fellows and residents in the next few years.

With these strategies firmly in place, we hope to develop sustainable palliative care services in Vietnam.

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