The European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) in Vietnam launched a fundraising campaign on August 17 to support the country in its toughest battle against COVID-19 yet.
Named “Breathe Again”, the project is dedicated to procuring medical devices, such as ventilators and monitors, for hospitals in need in Vietnam’s outbreak hotspots.
“Today we have too many people dying and being hospitalized, too many people who need ventilators or any kind of equipment that overloaded Vietnamese hospitals no longer have enough of,” said EuroCham chairman Alain Cany at an August 20 webinar.
EuroCham is currently flexible with what and to where benefactors can request the allocation of their donations. If there is no specific instruction, the team will consult its task force featuring Vietnamese doctors at the frontline.
“This is where we will ideally make a difference, as we would like to make sure that we will supply the equipment to a place where it is needed,” said Cany.
In the spirit of a fully transparent and impact-driven campaign, EuroCham intends to update information about which medical devices are being bought for which hospitals regularly, with 100% of funds being allocated as they come in.
Only equipment licensed for use in Vietnam will be supplied, and the majority currently considered are manufactured in Europe.
EuroCham also opened a dedicated bank account for this purpose, and donors can count on a signed contract that their support will reach the right beneficiaries.
As of August 26, the fund has already amassed over $79,000 or more than VND1.8 billion in nine days. About ten percent ($8,025 or VND182 million) has been dispatched. For reference, the cost of the equipment needed is said to range from $3,000 for smaller ones to $30,000 for the most expensive ones.
EuroCham is aiming for a six-week operation, with $250,000 expected to be raised by the end of August.
This initiative also has the full support of EU Ambassador to Vietnam, Giorgio Aliberti, who is “proud that European businesses are stepping up to support Vietnam during this fourth wave outbreak, as Europe has a large and longstanding presence in Vietnam.”
From $8,000 to $80,000
While EuroCham is leading all fundraising efforts, Breathe Again is the brainchild of strategic advisor Gricha Safarian, Honorary Consul of Belgium in HCMC and Puratos Grand-Place Vietnam’s general manager.
In early August, Safarian’s chocolate company partnered with a Vietnamese manufacturer to sponsor two monitors worth $8,000 for the Mental Hospital of Binh Duong, where two of its factories are based.
Having settled in Vietnam for almost 30 years, Safarian went home that day wondering how he could create a larger impact to help the country he dearly loves. He rang up his friend Bruno Angelet, former EU Ambassador to Vietnam, now security policy director at Belgium’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What started out as a casual conversation about the current state of Vietnam became the foundation of a nationwide project.
“We realized that this small donation of two monitors had a very deep impact on the hospital where we brought it,” Safarian told Vietcetera. “And it was also very simple — it was just a question of deciding to spend the money. Within two days, the material was in the hospital. So I said to Angelet: ‘why don't we try to upscale this?’”
From what he accomplished as owner of one Belgian company, Safarian couldn’t help thinking about what many Belgian companies would be able to do, and was ultimately inspired to involve all European companies.
He decided to bring up the idea with EuroCham and they quickly formed an alignment, hoping the latter’s one thousand enterprises and investors in all sectors and industries would help ensure the largest possible fundraising effort.
From vaccines to medical devices
When asked about the decision to support Vietnam with medical equipment instead of vaccines, chairman Cany said it actually came after EuroCham’s previous efforts to gather more of the latter for Vietnam proved unsuccessful.
“We found out that this is a government to government game, which private parties can’t chime in. But the good news is Europe is already the number one supplier of vaccines to Vietnam through the COVAX program. Countries like Poland or France have announced recently that they are going to bring additional vaccines to Vietnam.”
Belgian Ambassador to Vietnam Paul Jansen also added that “if vaccination isn’t in our hands despite being the optimal long-term solution, what we can do to help is support the medical network. Because if hospitals are not working, the situation will be much worse and can get out of control very quickly.”
In Safarian’s experience with his "prototype" project in Binh Duong, the entire process of gathering funds, identifying purchases needed and delivering the materials takes six days on average.
Vietnam’s healthcare system is currently under heavy strains, with all eyes on hard-hit southern localities. Given limited vaccine reserves and just over two percent of the country’s population fully inoculated, experts expect this crisis to continue. Dr. Nguyen Lan Hieu, director of Hanoi Medical University Hospital and one of Breathe Again’s medical advisors, said that Vietnam’s situation is completely different between this year and last year.
“In 2020 we had full control of COVID in our country, but the Delta variant attacked and we now have over 300,000 people positive with the virus and more than 9,000 deaths.”
Dr. Hieu is currently deployed at a hospital in Binh Duong and estimates the mortality rate he’s observed to be “very high — almost 80% to 90%.”
“This is because we don't have enough medical machines and staff. It’s too late to choose, so any way you can buy the necessary devices and fully support one center is the best way.”