Background: Primary health care plays an important role in addressing the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in low- and middle-income countries. In light of the rapid urbanization of Vietnam, this study aims to explore health professionals’ views about the responsiveness of primary health care services at commune health stations, particularly regarding the increase of NCDs in urban settings. Methods: This qualitative study was conducted in Hanoi from July to August 2015. We implemented 19 in-depth interviews with health staff at four purposely selected commune health stations and conducted a brief inventory of existing NCD activities at these commune health stations. We also interviewed NCD managers at national, provincial, and district levels. The interview guides reflected six components of the WHO health system framework, including service delivery, health workforce, health information systems, access to essential medicines, financing, and leadership/governance. A thematic analysis approach was applied to analyze the interview data in this study. Results: Six themes, related to the six building blocks of the WHO health systems framework, were identified. These themes explored the responsiveness of commune health stations to NCDs in urban Hanoi. Health staff at commune health stations were not aware of the national strategy for NCDs. Health workers noted the lack of NCD informational materials for management and planning. The limited workforce at health commune stations would benefit from more health workers in general and those with NCD-specific training and skills. In addition, the budget for NCDs at commune health stations remains very limited, with large differences in the implementation of national targeted NCD programs. Some commune health stations had no NCD services available, while others had some programming. A lack of NCD treatment drugs was also noted, with a negative impact on the provision of NCD-related services at commune health stations. These themes were also reflected in the inventory of existing NCD related activities. Conclusions: Health professionals view the responsiveness of commune health stations to NCDs in urban Hanoi, Vietnam as weak. Appropriate policies should be implemented to improve the primary health care services on NCDs at commune health stations in urban Hanoi, Vietnam. Keywords: Non-communicable disease, Responsiveness, Commune health station, Urban, Vietnam * Correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com Oncare Medical Technology Company Limited , Hanoi, Vietnam Center for Population Health Sciences, Hanoi University of Public Health, Hanoi, Vietnam Full list of author information is available at the end of the article © The Author(s). 2018 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated. Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 2 of 12 Background nutrition, tuberculosis, family planning, HIV, environmen- Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), namely cardiovas- tal and food safety. The number of health staff in a com- cular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory mune health station is based on the commune’s diseases, caused 38 million deaths globally in 2012. Most population, with a range of 5 to 10 health staff per com- deaths (28 million) occurred in low- and middle- income mune health station. On average, each health staff is re- countries (LMICs) . The annual loss attributable to sponsible for managing and implementing 2 to 3 targeted NCDs amounted to approximately 4% of GDP for programs at the commune health station, while also shar- LMICs . In addition, rapid urbanization challenged ing the responsibilities of occasional single-day events, population health in developing countries . This has such as periodic mass immunizations and/or infectious been accompanied by an increase in urban poverty and disease outbreak investigations and containment as neces- the development of slums [4, 5]. Populations afflicted sary. While there has been a study regarding primary with poverty and particularly those living in slums are health care system capacity response to NCDs in rural the most vulnerable urban groups, bearing a double bur- areas of Vietnam , a similar study in urban settings den of both communicable and non-communicable dis- has not yet been conducted or published. In response to eases . Primary health care services are vital to increasing NCDs, a pattern of growth compounded by the addressing NCDs, especially in LMICs . The World challenges of rapid urbanization on the health care system, Health Organization also highlighted the role of primary it is necessary to explore the status of primary health care health care systems to execute NCD interventions [8, 9]. services at commune health stations. Thus, this study Vietnam has achieved significant results in improving aims: 1) to explore the views of health professionals on population health. However, like other LMICs, Vietnam the responsiveness of primary health care services in ad- has suffered from a double burden of disease, in that the dressing NCDs at the commune health stations within an burden of communicable disease remains, while the bur- urban setting, and 2) to identify areas of improvement for den of non-communicable diseases (NCD) is increasing urban NCD primary health care service delivery. . The national hospital records showed that the pro- portion of communicable diseases decreased from 55.5 to Methods 25.3% between 1970 and 2013 while the proportion of Study setting NCDs increased from 42.7 to 63.5% during the same This study was conducted in Hanoi, the capital city of period . To address this, the Vietnamese government Vietnam, which comprises of 30 districts, including 12 has approved and implemented a specific national target urban districts, one district-level town (Son Tay) and 17 program for NCDs in 2002. Currently, this program re- rural districts. Each district is divided into wards and ceived renewed approval for 2015–2025 and includes towns, which are equivalent to communes. The popula- CVDs, diabetes, cancer, respiratory lung diseases (includ- tion in Hanoi was estimated to be 6.9 million in 2015, of ing chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases/COPDs and which 2.9 million (42%) lived in urban districts . The asthma) and other NCDs . To implement the national typical urban districts are located in the four central dis- strategy, several vertical programs were established that tricts of Hanoi. They are densely populated and include include programs on 1) hypertension prevention and con- both slum and non-slum areas. These urban districts have trol, 2) cancer prevention and control, 3) diabetes preven- 73 commune health stations, of which 32 commune tion and control, 4) COPDs and asthma prevention and health stations are involved in the national program on control, and 5) protection of mental health in the commu- NCDs (16 commune health stations with the hypertension nity and among children. Although these national targeted program and 16 commune health stations with diabetes programs were established quite early, budget constraints program). In this study, we focused on four commune limited the scale of the initial pilot activities. The pro- health stations, located in two urban districts within grams on hypertension, diabetes and mental health were Hanoi’s city center. These commune health stations are implemented at the commune level through a selection of responsible for providing primary health care for the 4–5 commune health stations per district. The programs population in their communes whom are representative of on cancer, COPDs and asthma were implemented at the urban population of interest for this study. provincial and district levels. All the above-mentioned programs focused mainly on improving communication Analytical frame and scope of study and screening services . The health system framework proposed by the WHO in- In Vietnam, a commune health station is the lowest cludes six building blocks used in the monitoring of health level in the health system, and the closest to the commu- systems, including 1) service delivery, 2) health workforce, 3) nity in terms of providing primary health care services health information systems, 4) access to essential medicines, . In addition, the commune health station is involved 5) financing, 6) leadership/governance . It is notable that in many national target programs, such as immunization, the health system components framework has areas of Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 3 of 12 overlap: leadership/governance and the availability of a health We purposively selected two districts in order to cover information system provides the basis for the overall policy different areas in urban Hanoi. One district represents re- and regulation of all the other building blocks, while finan- gions within the old quarter, and the other represents both cing and health workforce are key input variables to the old quarter and new urban areas. In addition, these two health system. Further, access to essential medicines and ser- urban districts consist of typical slum areas, which are in vice delivery reflect the immediate outputs of the health sys- close proximity to non-slum areas . A comprehensive tem. In this study, we adapted the WHO health system list of all commune health stations in these two districts framework to explore how health professionals view the re- was collected from their district health centers. In these sponsiveness of commune health stations towards NCDs in two districts, there were two types of commune health an urban setting. Figure 1 presents the analytical framework, stations: stations involved in the national program for with a simplification of the six building blocks of the health NCDs (either hypertension or diabetes) and commune system framework to address responsiveness and to connect health stations without any targeted NCD programs. Al- primary health care responsiveness to NCDs. The scope of though the health system in Vietnam was decentralized, the study was limited to the perspective of health profes- and the targeted program on NCDs at the commune level sionals on primary health care services for NCDs at the com- was at a pilot stage, we sought to explore the variability mune health stations. In addition, we only focused on between a commune with and without the national tar- NCDs, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and geted program on NCDs. In each district, two commune chronic respiratory diseases. health stations were selected, including one commune health station with an NCD program and one without any Study design and sampling NCD program. In each selected commune health station, We undertook a qualitative approach using thematic ana- we purposively selected participants involved in NCD spe- lysis  to synthesize the views of health professionals cific health-related activities, including physicians, phys- on primary health care services to NCDs. Qualitative data ician assistants, pharmacist assistants and nurses. To was collected through in-depth interviews. In-depth inter- supplement information from the commune level, we also views are considered appropriate tools for collecting rich interviewed NCDs managers at national, provincial, and information that can provide evidence to policy makers district levels regarding the implementation of primary . Thus, it was considered a suitable tool to study the health care services for NCDs at the commune level. opinions of health professionals, the results of which can be used to guide local policy changes. By asking Study tools and data collection open-ended questions, we were able to explore in-depth Two interview guides were developed: one for NCD man- the ideas and information provided by each participant. agers at different levels and one for health staff at commune The study was conducted between July and August health stations (Additional file 1). The interview guides were 2015. A total of 19 in-depth interviews were conducted. written in Vietnamese. These guides were nearly identical, Fig. 1 The adapted analytical framework for the responsiveness of commune health stations to non-communicable disease Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 4 of 12 except for the inclusion of one additional question related to Table 1 One example of the data analysis process using thematic analysis approach the availability of health information systems technology for NCD at the participant’s level specifically for NCD managers. Code Sub-themes Themes The interview questions were guided by the WHO concep- Limited understanding Unawareness Leadership/governance- about NCD policies of the NCD Unawareness and weak tual framework for health systems, adapted for relevance to and strategies strategies implementation of national the current situation in Vietnam’s primary health care con- strategies Don’t know about Unawareness text. The interview questions were classified into two sec- any NCD policies of the NCD tions: the first section focused on personal and professional strategies information such as the participants’ age, sex, work position, Know some policies Weak work experience and educational background; and the sec- about NCDs, but too implementation busy to focus on this ond section was designed to explore participant views on pri- issue mary health care services based on the WHO’s six building No guideline for NCDs Weak blocks. In addition, the interview questions included a ques- at commune health implementation tion about the vital needs of commune health stations to im- stations prove their primary health care service for NCDs. Our interviews were carried out in private rooms at the com- mune health station. For interviews with participants at the NCD services was inductively identified based on our data. district, provincial and national levels, our interviews were Thus, we combined our theoretical thematic analysis with carried out at their offices. All our interviews lasted between an inductive approach , to remain open to the emer- 45 min and 1 h. The first author conducted all interviews gence of additional relevant themes from our data. We fi- with the support of one research assistant. Since no relevant nalized the overall themes by developing subheadings that new information appeared concerning our research ques- captured and summarized the content and main ideas tions, saturation of information was judged to have been within each of the themes. The final thematic categories reached after these 19 interviews. were refined following discussion with other members of To complement data from the interviews, we conducted the research team . The results of the inventory were a brief inventory of NCD related activities at the four se- summarized in a table and compared against the themes lected commune health stations. A checklist of existing identified for the interviews. NCD-related activities was developed and used to collect information from relevant health staff at the commune Results health stations. This checklist contained questions about Social demographic characteristics the number of NCD patients per month, the availability of A total of 19 participants took part in the study. Table 2 equipment and medicine for NCD treatment, the avail- shows the distribution of age, gender, professional role, work ability of preventive and curative NCD activities, and the experience, job title and qualification of participants in the skills of staff for NCD prevention and treatment. study. The age ranged between 25 and 54 years, of whom half were between 25 and 34 years of age. Most participants Data management and analysis were female (17/19), which reflected the current predomin- The interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim ance of female health professionals within Vietnamese com- into MS Word by a research assistant. The transcripts were mune health stations. Their work experience ranged from reviewed and corrected by the first author. All transcripts newly graduated to those almost nearing their retirement; were then translated into English by the first author and most participants had worked more than 5 years (17/19). shared among co-authors for review. The data were entered The analysis resulted in six themes describing the respon- into the OpenCode version 4.02 software . An initial siveness of commune health stations to NCDs and one theme descriptive coding framework was developed based on the describing needs for improvement for primary health care WHO framework for health systems , implying that NCD services. The first six themes were deductively devel- data was organized to these pre-determined themes, i.e. oped based on the WHO framework while the seventh theme themes were initially identified in a theoretical, deductive was inductively developed based on our data. Below we de- way  . We manually reviewed the verbatim interview scribe these themes in detail and exemplify with quotes from transcripts multiple times, and developed codes to capture the interviews how these themes were reflected in our data. the content of the responses from each participant . Subsequently, the codes were grouped into sub-themes and organized under our core themes, i.e. the WHO framework Service delivery – Unsystematic, limited and inadequate for the six blocks of the health system (Table 1). Beyond The primary health care services for NCD were acknowl- these six pre-determined themes, an additional theme de- edged to be on a limited scale, with unsystematic scribing areas of improvement for primary health care implementation. Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 5 of 12 Table 2 Number and distribution of participants by age group, Most health staff mentioned that they knew the bur- sex, job title, work experience and qualification den of NCDs among their population. However, they Characteristic Frequency lacked autonomy to implement NCD programs, or to provide more primary health care services at their com- Age group (years) mune health stations. 25–29 5 30–34 5 “...some common NCDs increased in our commune, but 35–39 2 we could not provide any primary health care service 40–44 2 here. The problem is we lack human resources, medicines 45–49 3 and equipment.”– (health staff at a commune health sta- tion without any national target program on NCDs). 50–54 2 Total 19 However, some health staff at the commune health stations Sex also strongly argued that their workday was already over- Male 2 whelmed with professional responsibilities, such that they did Female 17 not want to provide NCD services at their commune health Total 19 stations. Likely, there was a concern regarding declining qual- ity of services if the scope of the services was expanded. Work experience (years) <5 2 “As I told you, we cannot implement health care ser- 5–97 vice for NCDs. We have many tasks, and we lack a doc- 10–14 3 tor here.”- (health staff at a commune health station 15–19 3 without any national targeted program on NCDs). >20 4 Leadership/governance- lack of awareness of and weak Total 19 implementation of the national strategy Professional role NCD managers at the national, provincial and district levels Medical doctor 8 highlighted a national strategy for NCDs issued by the Doctor assistant 4 Prime Minister targeting cancer, CVDs, diabetes, COPDs, Pharmacist/pharmacist assistant 3 asthma and other NCDs for the period between 2015 and Nurse 4 2025. This strategy legally obliged the country and relevant stakeholders to address the problem of NCDs. In addition, Total 19 the strategy also focused on risk factors for NCDs, includ- ing smoking, alcohol abuse, food safety and low levels of physical activity. However, even if the national strategy was “Because services related to the management of NCDs acknowledged at higher levels, health staff at commune have not been implemented systematically at primary level were not aware of its existence, nor its practical appli- health care levels, the coverage has been limited, so the cations. All participants at the commune health stations proportion of people at high risk of accessing health ser- lacked awareness regarding the national strategy for NCDs. vices were small, and this doesn’t ensure health equity.” – (health staff at the national level). “I don’t know. It’s too macro level when talking about national strategy or policies”- (health staff at a commune Inadequate quality and quantity of primary health care health station with the national program on NCDs). services for NCDs at commune health stations were noted by NCD managers at the district level. The national target Even at commune health stations involved in the national programs on NCDs were implemented in only a few com- program for hypertension or diabetes, health staff did not munes within a district, and only offer health care provi- know about the national strategies for NCDs. Health staff sions to a small number of the population. expected NCD managers at their commune health stations to know; however, NCD managers were not aware either. “… [in our district] we implemented the hypertension program for only 4 communes and implemented the dia- Health information- limited, fragmented and inadequate betes program for 4 other communes [among 18 com- for planning munes]. We don’t have any NCD programs for the rest of Health information is considered crucial for health plan- communes...” – (health staff at the district level). ning at the national level. However, it was noted that the Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 6 of 12 information was limited, fragmented and inadequate, “For me, the NCD reports were collected very passively. For since national target programs collected data and even example, if patients present to the clinic, then the diagnosis so, only sporadically and on a small scale. The national occurs. That is how and when we record their information target programs on NCDs cover only a few NCDs, such and diagnosis in our ledgers”- (health staff at a commune as hypertension, diabetes, COPD and cancer. health station without any national program for NCDs). “The health information system is very important, how- “We have monthly and quarterly reports for NCDs. But ever, NCD reports were done only through the national we just recorded patients who visited the clinic. In addition, target programs, and there wasn’t a unique system yet. It we got information from our health collaborators when they means that NCD-related statistics and data are limited, knew someone in their community was diagnosed with a fragmented and inadequate”– (health staff at the na- NCD. So, our data about NCDs are underestimated, and tional level). incorrect”- (health staff at a commune health station). The lack of data on NCDs was also noted at the dis- Health workforce –misallocated and insufficient capacity trict level. Since NCD patients frequently go to hospitals, Insufficient workforce targeting NCDs at commune and hospital systems lack a comprehensive centralized health stations in terms of number of staff and technical data-sharing system, there is insufficient coordination of training was widely mentioned by participants. The na- information between the curative and preventative tional target programs on NCDs have not been extended health systems in Vietnam. Usually, commune health to include all commune health stations, so in general, stations report on NCDs based on the NCD target pro- there are discrepancies between funding and technical grams; however, as the commune health station staff had support for primary health care services provisions for to manage multiple priorities, the quality of the reports NCDs at commune health stations generally. typically suffer from divided attention. “For the health workforce at commune health stations, “We don’t have much information because we are not some facilities either lack human resources and/or lack a curative facility. We had information about NCD from capacity. They need to be strengthened in their capacity to four commune health stations participating in the na- provide services for NCD prevention, consultation, early tional program, and our two clinics for health insurers. detection, and management. The reason is we haven’tim- For other commune health stations, we don’t have data plemented NCD services systematically at the primary about NCDs” – (health staff at district level). health care facilities.”- (health staff at the national level). Most health staff at commune health stations men- Misallocation of health staff at commune health sta- tioned the lack of NCD data, however, they all referred tions was mentioned. While there are a lot of nurses, to and expected NCD managers to answer specific ques- midwives, and pharmacist assistants, medical doctors are tions about NCD data. It is the NCD manager at a com- lacking. Particularly at commune health stations, there mune health station that is assigned the duty of was an insufficient number of medical doctors dealing collecting NCDs information and preparing relevant re- with NCDs. NCD managers at a district level strongly ports. NCD data were reported within the national tar- emphasized the limited incentives to the recruitment of get program, such as hypertension and diabetes. medical doctors to commune health stations, due to low salaries as well as fewer professional development and “The quality of NCD data was not high because we did career advancement opportunities. not collect all NCD cases. We only collect data within our program”- (health staff at a commune health station “… [at commune health stations] there are a lot of with the hypertension program). nurses, midwives and pharmacist assistants, but we lack medical doctors. Generally, there is one medical doctor The NCD data were from a limited number of patients per commune health station, but some commune health enrolled in the treatment programs. Consequently, epi- stations do not have medical doctors. In addition, a med- demiological data is limited by the absence of a system ical doctor at the commune health station normally to collect disease burden information from those not en- holds leadership positions at the commune health sta- rolled in treatment at a commune health station. The tions and therefore, has many responsibilities beyond low quality of NCD reports was again confirmed at the clinical work. Actually, what we need are staff respon- commune level. The NCD data were collected passively sible for clinical duties, who are trained as a medical based on self-reported NCDs from patients, or those of doctor or a physician assistant.”– (health staff at the health collaborators. provincial level). Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 7 of 12 “We are lacking professionals at commune health sta- and there was a poor response to treatment, so [patients] tions. However, it is hard to recruit a medical doctor to work quit the programs.”- (health staff at district level). for commune health stations, especially those who have spe- cialized skills in NCDs”– (health staff at the district level). “We always want to get more funding. Historically, the funding for NCD has always been limited. And…,there Most health staff at commune health stations also con- weren’t enough medications. So even if patients request firmed that their commune health stations had enough treatment, we cannot provide the medications”- (health health staff but suggested that their capacity on NCDs staff at district level). was not sufficient to meet the requirements of the popu- lation. The ancillary staff also discussed a need for more However, some health staff at commune health stations in- specialized training on NCDs for support staff. terpret the absence of medications as secondary to a broader systemic issue. These participants reported that because dis- “… I think that our capacity [on NCDs] would not trict health centers are responsible for dispensing medica- meet the requirement of patients because patients do not tions, NCD budgets do not affect medication availability at a want to visit us. Their demand is higher that our cap- commune health station. In addition, commune health station acity”- (health staff at a commune health station without staff expressed a desire to maintain autonomy in budgeting at any national program on NCDs). commune health stations, to reflect the local health needs. At commune health stations without any nationally “It’s a bit difficult to say. I am a staff member, so I targeted programs on NCDs, most participants noted don’t know. All of the large decisions are made by higher that they had enough staff because they did not provide levels.”– (health staff at a commune health station with- any primary health care services on NCDs. out any national program for NCDs). “We have enough staff. But, it’s hard to say about cap- “I know that medications [for hypertension program] are acity. So far, I’ve found that we worked well because we did provided by the district health center. So, I don’t see any not have any NCD services”- (health staff at a commune impact of providing NCD services on the budget [at the health station without any national programs on NCDs). commune health center level]”– (health staff at a com- mune health station with national program on NCDs). Financing – Limited budget for NCD services Insufficient public financing for primary health care ser- Some health staff at the interviewed commune health vices of NCDs was emphasized by most participants. The stations requested more funding for NCDs. In general, budget for NCDs was available only for communes with staff expressed that low salaries were also an obvious national target programs; there is no mechanism to use limitation for an overwhelmed health system. health insurance at a primary health care level for NCDs. In addition, the national target programs on NCDs are an- “We always want to have more funding [for NCDs], but we ticipated to undergo a reduction in the near future, which don’t know how to get more.”– (health staff at a commune would further limit the funds available for NCDs. health station without any national program on NCDs). “The budget for primary health care services of NCDs “For me, it’s necessary to provide additional funding for is very limited; [funding is] mainly through the national health staff that improves staff satisfaction… I’ve found the target programs on NCDs, but the programs have been incentive is not commensurate to our labor. We love our cut down. There are some barriers within health insur- work here, but the salary was not sufficient.”- (health staff ance reimbursement for NCDs at primary health care at a commune health station with the national program level”- (health staff at the national level). on NCDs). The lack of a budget for NCDs was also noted by Access to essential medications – Either absent or NCD managers at the district level. This led to a short- insufficient age of medicines as well as reduced coverage of primary NCD managers at the national level noted that the es- health care for NCDs at commune health stations. sential medications at commune health stations include provisions for some NCD medicines. “The budget was so limited for our commune health sta- tion…. In our 4 communes with NCD programs, in the first “The essential medications, including hypertension and dia- round, many patients participated, but [participation] re- betes medications, were in the list of available medications duced year by year. That’s because we lacked medications, for commune health stations [by regulation]. Commune Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 8 of 12 health stations have sphygmomanometer [for measure- Table 3 Summarizing vital needs to improve primary health care for NCDs at commune health stations ment of blood pressure], but they don’t have equipment for the rapid test of blood glucose. Medications for COPD Recommendations for improving NCD services at commune health stations and cancer are not available at commune health sta- 1. Provide more budget to implement NCD related-services tions.” – (health staff at the national level). 2. Recruit more medical doctors, especially those who have specialization on NCDs 3. Invest more equipment to aid in diagnose and early detection However, health staff at commune health stations reported of NCDs that they did not have any medications for NCDs at their 4. Provide more professional training for health staff, e.g. diagnosis, commune health stations, especially in commune health sta- treatment, and communication with NCD patients. 5. Make medicines for NCDs available so commune health stations tions without the national target program for NCDs. For can provide treatment directly commune health stations within the national target pro- 6. Implement health insurance support for NCDs at commune grams on hypertension, the district fund and provide medi- health stations 7. Develop a service package for NCDs at the commune level cations, which are distributed to enrolled patients via the for eligible for coverage by the national insurance program commune health stations. For commune health stations within national target programs on diabetes, only screening is currently provided, as treatment is not yet available. These health stations. Most participants requested additional highlight the spectrum of NCD management regarding spe- funding support. cific diseases and their variable availability within communes. “We need additional funding to provide incentives for “…We do not have medications at our commune health our health collaborators. In addition, funding can help stations. What we have are some medications specifically us provide [more] information about NCDs to the com- for emergencies”- (health staff at commune health sta- munity through workshops and other forums. Finally, we tions without any national target program on NCDs). need increased funding to directly increase our salary be- cause it’s difficult to perform well with a low salary”- “…We receive medications for hypertension from the dis- (health staff of a commune health station at a commune trict level for patients enrolled in the program [national health station with the national program on NCDs). target program on hypertension] in our commune. There is no medication for other NCDs because we do not provide “We need more funding to implement surveys to under- any NCD services here”- (health staff at commune health stand the status of NCD in our community. We also need stations with the national targeted program on NCDs). funding to provide an incentive for our health collaborators, including people from organizations who help with imple- At commune health stations within the national target mentation and execution of field activities. Besides that, we program on hypertension, shortage of medications for hyper- need training materials for staff on NCDs and equipment tension was noted by NCD managers at provincial, district for NCDs management”– (health staff at a commune and commune level. Delay in the bidding process was the health station without the national program on NCDs). main reason for the shortage of medications. In these situa- tions, patients must privately purchase medicine using Most participants also noted the importance of more hu- out-of-pocket funds or forego medication usage entirely. man resources, training, and equipment at the commune health stations. Some participants stated that increasing “Normally, the shortage happens about 3 months in a medication availability for NCDs at the commune health sta- year. Our doctors still prescribe for our patients and ask tions was important to help commune health stations actively them to buy [the medications] themselves using their own provide primary health services for NCDs. Notably, some funding” – (health staff at the provincial level). participants recommended that health insurance be imple- mented at commune health stations with the development of “Sometimes we lack hypertension medications because a service package for NCDs at commune health stations. the district did not provide medications for us.”- (health staff at a commune health station with the national tar- Brief inventory of NCD activities at four selected get program on NCDs). commune health station Staff at the four selected commune health stations were Needs for improving primary health care services for also asked to fill in a checklist of the scope of each com- NCDs – Budget, basic data collection and professional mune health station’s involvement in NCD management. training for implementing NCDs services These are documented in Table 4. Overall, few patients Table 3 shows the summary of recommendations to im- visited the commune health stations every month. Medi- prove primary health care services for NCDs at commune cations and equipment for NCDs were lacking. Limited Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 9 of 12 Table 4 Inventory non-communicable disease activities at four selected commune health station Hypertension Diabetes COPD Cancer Number of patients per month/commune health station 5–10 2–30 0 Number of commune health station with relevant equipment 4/4 1/4 0/4 0/4 Number of commune health station with relevant medicine 0/4 0/4 0/4 0/4 Number of commune health station with preventive NCD activities 2/4 2/4 0/4 0/4 Number of commune health station curative NCD activities 1/4 0/4 0/4 0/4 Number of commune health stations with adequate skill for NCD prevention and treatment 2/4 2/4 0/4 0/4 NCD Non-communicable disease preventive and curative NCD interventions were avail- for planning and implementing interventions. Among par- able at the commune health stations. All commune ticipants at commune health stations, NCD data collection health stations reported inadequate training for NCD is described as passive, and did not accurately reflect the in- prevention and treatment. cidence of disease within the local community. This finding is consistent with the results from the joint annual review Discussion regarding NCDs in Vietnam suggesting that the quality and This study explored the ability of commune health stations timeliness of NCD reports were not sufficient for manage- to respond to NCDs through the perspective and experi- ment and planning . The lack of NCD information is ences of health professionals in urban Hanoi. Their verba- likely to impact the development of evidence-based NCD tim accounts provide insight on the various health system policies and interventions. In addition, an effective health factors which may complicate the delivery of NCD services information system would strengthen the population’s. at commune health stations. These issues were explored health, improve accurate resource distribution, and en- through application of the six WHO building blocks of the hance management capacity . health system, including governance, health information, Workforce insufficiency impacts the availability of pri- health workforce, financing, service delivery and medica- mary health care services for NCDs at commune health tions . The findings from our study showed that com- stations. To provide effective NCDs services, the health mune health stations had not been prepared to respond to care workforce needs to have appropriate education and the rising prevalence of NCDs in urban Hanoi, Vietnam. training . As noted by most participants, since there The Vietnamese government recognized the burden of is an insufficient health care workforce, along with the NCDs early on, in 2002 . The country has developed absence of skilled and specialized providers, it has been and implemented several policies and strategies for pre- impossible to provide primary health care services at vention and control of NCDs and their risk factors [12, commune health stations. In addition, given the multi- 20]. These policies and strategies were implemented via tude of health programs implemented at a commune the establishment of national target programs on NCDs. health station at any given time, a well-trained staff Although the national target programs on NCDs have would not have sufficient time to focus on NCD service been conducted nationally, their coverage has been limited provision, particularly as it requires a preventative focus. and is still lacking prioritization by local authorities . In a study from a rural district of Vietnam, Minh et al. Our findings showed that NCD managers at higher levels also found that the quality and quantity of health staff were aware of the national strategy on NCDs. However, were insufficient at primary health care level . Evi- most participants at commune health stations, those re- dence showed that the human resources for NCDs were sponsible for enacting the day-to-day patient education planned specifically to meet NCDs needs, and conse- and management, were unaware of the national strategy quently, there was an effect on NCD strategy monitoring on NCDs. This demonstrated a lack of policy dissemin- and implementation [13, 22, 23]. ation from higher levels to the grassroots level. In Together with an insufficient, under-trained health addition, since commune health stations did not imple- care workforce, health financing is a key component to ment NCD services, health staff at commune health sta- an improved health care delivery system , which in tions are not up-to-date in their knowledge and practices turn impacts the implementation of NCDs interventions. regarding NCDs. Although relevant policies were available As noted by participants, the lack of a budget prohibited on a national level to address the problems of NCDs, it is staff from conducting NCDs interventions commensur- essential to plan and implement cost-effective intervention ate to the burden of disease within the community. via local health facilities . While a state budget for NCDs prevention, screening, We found that higher level administrative health staff rec- and diagnosis were allocated to some commune health ognized the inadequacy of health information technology stations participating in the national target program on Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 10 of 12 NCDs (e.g. hypertension or diabetes), the budget has treatment drugs prevented commune health stations from been very limited. In addition, since commune health providing primary health care services for NCDs . stations were not included in the health insurance Overall, the findings of this study complement the results scheme , they did not have any other allocated in reports by the Ministry of Health, which showed that budget to implement NCDs interventions for patients health information, human resources, health financing, ser- within in their communes. vice access and medications for NCDs were insufficient in We found that almost no primary health care services Vietnam . Our findings were also consistent with a study for NCDs were conducted at the commune health sta- in urban Vietnam highlighting the inadequacy of the primary tions. Since there were only a few communes involved in health care system to serve the NCD-related health needs of the targeted national programs on hypertension or dia- the population . In the South East Asia region, Bart et al. betes (i.e. 4–5 in each district) one could infer that this also found that the primary health system in Cambodia was number reflects the overall situation in urban Hanoi. Fur- unable to manage NCDs, even though the burden of NCDs ther, even at those two commune health stations involved was increasing . Having reviewed several papers on the in the targeted national programs, screening services and health system and NCDs, Priya et al. reported similar results treatment were implemented for a limited population that there is a gap in health systems regarding NCDs in only. This is in direct contrast to recommendations that Asian-Pacific territories . In Vietnam, although there are primary health care services for NCDs be implemented at national programs for NCDs, these programs are limited in the primary health level . Since patients with NCDs re- scope and targeted population. In addition, the current quire longitudinal care, primary care can deliver better health insurance plan, which is meant to be a safety network health outcomes at a lower cost . As the prevalence of for patients without coverage, did not cover NCD coverage NCDs is concentrated among the poor in both slum and at the commune health station (these must be accessed at non-slum urban settings , and urban populations also the district hospital level). The lack of a health insurance have a lower utilization of commune health stations , package for NCDs has prevented commune health centers socioeconomic inequalities may increase if the country from providing the NCDs services, including screening, early does not address the burden of NCDs in an appropriate diagnosis, treatment, and management, to meet the needs of and timely manner. Thus, it is necessary to strengthen the the local community. primary health care services for NCDs so that patients with NCDs can be managed more locally by urban Trustworthiness of the study commune health stations instead of tertiary hospitals. Trustworthiness in qualitative research is mainly judged by Moreover, to maximize the commune health stations the ability of the study to capture what it really intended to participating in NCDs programs, there should be better explore . This requires careful consideration throughout selection criteria to account for comorbid diseases, such the research process from its design to the final results. In as diabetes and hypertension. To successfully address the this study, trustworthiness was ensured by the first author’s burden of NCDs, the integration of NCDs program into deep involvement throughout the research process, which other health programs at a primary level should be more enabled the researcher to come “closetothe studysubjects” robust [7, 23, 25, 26]. . The first author, who has a background as a medical Ensuring patients with NCDs access to essential medica- doctor, facilitated the data collection process as he was tions at the primary health level is a necessary foundation deeply familiar with the role of health staff in each level of to control and manage NCDs successfully . Although the medical system. Because the discussion focused only on Vietnam has an essential drug list and a health insurance the participants’ work, biases related to personal issues drug list including most medications needed for NCD likely did not impact on the interviews. In addition, the in- treatment , this study found that some commune formation provided by commune health stations was health stations had no NCD treatment medications avail- cross-checked through interviews with participants at the able. In some commune health stations participating in district, provincial and national levels. All interviews were the national target programs on NCDs, NCD treatment planned, conducted and analyzed by the first author. In drugs were provided by the district level to a limited num- addition, credibility was ensured by triangulation amongst ber of registered patients via the commune health stations. investigators, with analysis conducted through collabor- In addition, the commune health stations in our study did ation between the first and the last authors along with add- not accept the national health insurance, so patients with itional input from the rest of the research team. This NCDs in these regions were not eligible to use their health allowed perspectives from several different angles to be insurance cards at these commune health stations. Evi- brought up and discussed, with both “insider” and “out- dence showed that the responsiveness of commune health sider” perspectives on the Vietnamese health system. In stations to NCDs would be impacted by the absence of addition, interview data was complemented and mirrored NCD treatment drugs [22, 23, 27]. The lack of NCD against a standardized inventory of NCD related activities Kien et al. BMC Health Services Research (2018) 18:392 Page 11 of 12 at the four selected commune health stations. Further, we improving the primary health care services for NCDs at have tried to describe each step in the research process in commune health stations include: providing more funding to detail, for others to be able to follow and judge the sound- implement NCD related services, including collection of ness of our results. basic health information/data; NCD workforce development This study provided an opportunity to rigorously under- to increase human resources; and providing equipment and stand how health professionals view the responsiveness of medicines for NCDs. A comprehensive service package for primary health care services for NCDs at commune health NCDs should be developed so that access to primary health stations. However, the findings must be interpreted with care at commune health stations can be covered by the caution. In this study, we included only four commune national health insurance. health stations and 19 participants (including 4 partici- pants from higher levels). Although the findings provide Additional file valuable insights into the responsiveness of commune health stations to NCDs in Hanoi, the findings are not evi- Additional file 1: In-depth interview guide: health staff. (DOCX 16 kb) dently generalizable to other urban settings. However, by describing our study context in detail, we Abbreviations COPDs: Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases; CVDs: Cardiovascular think that others will be able to judge whether these results diseases; GDP: Gross domestic product; HIV: Human immunodeficiency virus; are also transferable to other similar contexts. We purpos- LMICs: Low- and middle- income countries; NCD: Non-communicable ively selected districts and health centers that are “typical” disease; WHO: World Health Organization and reflective of urban Hanoi to gain in-depth information Acknowledgements about how health professionals view the responsiveness of We thank all participants for providing their information. We also are grateful commune health stations to NCDs. In qualitative research, for the cooperation of health staff of the participating district health centers the sample is often small and demographically in Hanoi for data collection. non-representative  . The advantage of using qualitative Funding interviews is that we could explore their views in depth and This research is supported by grants from the Center for Health System from their own perspectives by using open and flexible inter- Research, Hanoi Medical University. view guides, rather than pre-determined questions and an- Authors’ contributions swers. Thus, instead of aiming for statistical generalization or VDK and ME led the design of the study, the analysis and the development representation, our qualitative research aimed to achieve ana- of the draft manuscript. VDK led the data collection in collaboration with lytical generalizations, i.e. derive results with “theoretical” ap- HVM and KBG. All authors contributed to the development of the manuscript and read and approved the final version. plication to other contexts. Further, since planning in Vietnam follows a top-down approach, commune health sta- Ethics approval and consent to participate tions normally follow the guidelines and direction from dis- This research was approved by Hanoi Medical University and the district health centers in Hanoi (Document No.0084/DHYHN-TTNCHTYT, and trict and provincial levels. This implies that commune health Document No. 825/QD-DHYHN). All participants gave verbal informed stations implement hypertension and diabetes programs in consent before inclusion in the study. The participants were informed about thesamemannerin all pilotcommune health stations. Fur- the study aims and themes discussed during the interview. Participants were informed of their right to withdraw from the study at any time, without ther, we complemented interview data with an inventory of additional questions or qualifications. Participants were encouraged to ask existing NCD activities at these health centers, which con- questions and seek more explanation if questions were unclear. Participants firmed data gained from the interviews. In addition to the were made aware of the data collection process, including audio-recording and transcription of the interview. In addition, they were informed about a staff at the selected commune health stations, we also inter- confidentiality clause, which specified that only the research team could viewed managers at the district, provincial and national levels, access the study data, and all results were documented to ensure anonymity. which also provided perspectives beyond the four selected All participants agreed prior to participation. health stations and offered a more generalized view of the Competing interests medical system. This supports the partial applicability of The authors declare that they have no competing interests. these results to other urban settings in Hanoi. Publisher’sNote Conclusion Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in There are different perceptions among NCD managers at published maps and institutional affiliations. higher levels and health staff at commune health stations in Author details terms of availability of the national strategy for NCDs. How- 1 2 Oncare Medical Technology Company Limited , Hanoi, Vietnam. Center for ever, most participants agreed that the NCDs programming Population Health Sciences, Hanoi University of Public Health, Hanoi, at commune health stations in urban Hanoi are weak, with Vietnam. Unit of Epidemiology and Global Health, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden. Institute for limited health information, sparse human resources, poor Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Hanoi Medical University, Hanoi, financing, inadequate qualityand quantityof services, and 5 6 Vietnam. Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA. 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Published: May 31, 2018
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