Living with Diabetes in Vietnam

It’s true that for a lot of people, living with diabetes can be difficult. It can be frustrating, uncompromising, and even downright depressing. However, no matter how difficult it seems to be in the west, imagine how much more difficult it can be in countries where treatment is expensive, health insurance is nigh un-affordable, and lifestyles are dictated by self-serving governments. It’s easy to complain about the price of an insulin pen that will set you back a few pounds or dollars, but imagine if those few pounds or dollars were half a week’s wages; this is one of the reasons why living with diabetes in Vietnam can sometimes be tough.

Let’s be honest, if you’re from the UK, you have it lucky. Though you may have to travel to another city to see a consultant, and though certain areas of the country don’t provide the most up-to-date blood glucose devices, the majority of the stuff, the important stuff, is free. In other countries, people aren’t so lucky; health insurance may be required etc and things can get quite costly, but in the grand scheme of things, the situation in the west isn’t that bad. However, if you’re living with diabetes in Vietnam, or Asia in general, things are a lot different.

Living with diabetes in Vietnam - Lack of exercise


In some Asian countries, such as Vietnam, the governments don’t really give a f**k about their citizens. As long as the pockets of the men in charge are consistently lined, the rest of the population is left running around fending for themselves; prescriptions are rarely needed and, let’s face it, corruption is so rife that an extra note or two in the right hands gets you whatever you want, but this doesn’t mean that everyone can afford it. It costs me roughly £9 for a Novorapid pen (lasting about 2 weeks), which isn’t much at all for me really, but for someone who has several mouths to feed, and only earns that same amount of money over 2-3 days, it can sometimes be a problem, not to mention the cost of bg monitors and other types of insulin needed.


As I mentioned in my previous post, there seems to be an epidemic-level sugar problem in Vietnam and, along with the lack of exercise and general miseducation of a lot of the population, diabetes (both types) is now rapidly becoming a major problem.

The Vietnamese people have to pay for medical services, often opting for private care rather than public, and so costs can quickly soar if someone needs a regular amount of care and/or drugs. Although pharmacies in the country are generally easy going in terms of what you buy over the counter, a lot of the drugs appear to be counterfeit and/or have expired, and so can often cause further problems. If complications arise (as they no doubt do), the cost is overwhelming and some people will simply not be able to afford it, leading to black market type operations and drugs (which come with their own set of problems).

Living with diabetes in Vietnam - Novo Nordisk


I mentioned the lack of education in regards to food and drink in my previous post but, from what I’ve found, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of reliable information or education once diagnosed with diabetes either. There aren’t any DAFNE (Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating) courses in Vietnam, there’s no carb counting help for people, and even if there was, the nutritional information here isn’t the best (I’ve found foods that claim to have no sugar, but the info doesn’t include the fact that some of the ingredients are already laced with sugar- milk being a good example).

Will things get any easier for people?

Well, in a word, no.

Diabetes in the country has only really been properly understood and seen as a major problem in the last few years and, with a rapidly rising population, you can pretty much guarantee that more and more people will eventually be diagnosed in years to come. The amount of fast food chains and bubble tea (flavoured sugar water) shops opening up on every other street corner is only making things worse.

Medical infrastructure is dire as it is, without the addition of hundreds-if not thousands-of people literally needing certain drugs regularly to survive. Even the UK, where the medical system is somewhat organised, diabetes is slowly becoming a problem; imagine that same problem but with a larger population and far less understanding…

Living with diabetes in Vietnam- Typical pharmacy

All in all, living with diabetes in Vietnam, for a Vietnamese person at least, is difficult (and I’ve only really touched on the subject- I daren’t mention amputations, blindness, and other complications). It’s not the people’s fault, it’s not even entirely the government’s fault, but is just one of the many problems a developing country encounters past a certain level.

For a foreigner living in Vietnam, the problems seem laughable and at times downright annoying; I often wonder to myself ‘Why don’t they just do such and such a thing?’, or ‘Why does nobody tell anyone how bad that is?’, but then I remember that maybe it’ll just take a bit of time before people realise how serious things are, hopefully sooner rather than later. So, all in all it’s safe to say that living with diabetes in Vietnam is far from easy.

So, when you’re complaining that you’ve had to travel 20 miles to see your endo, or your prescription isn’t quite complete, just remember that you really could have it so much worse…


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