German prostheses for Viet Nam

Around eight million Vietnamese have a physical disability, in many cases as the result of injuries caused during the Viet Nam war by shrapnel, mines and other explosive devices. Road traffic accidents are also a major cause of disability: Particularly in big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, the situation on the roads is precarious, there are too many vehicles, and drivers switch lanes unpredictably.

Serious accidents causing permanent physical impairment are common in Viet Nam, so there is a high demand for professional prostheses and orthotics. However, high-quality implants are in short supply, and Vietnamese doctors are not trained to use this state-of-the-art medical technology.

Having recognised the potential in Viet Nam’s fast growing market for medical technology, Intercus GmbH, a long-established manufacturer of prostheses and orthotics, took the plunge in 2010 – but its market launch was more difficult than it had envisaged: Thomas Busch, Managing Director of Intercus, says, ‘We realised pretty quickly that our advanced German know-how was not going to get us very far in Viet Nam. What we in Europe consider basic is often completely new for the Vietnamese.’ Viet Nam’s doctors simply did not have the technical medical skills they needed to be able to fit these high-quality German implants correctly.

Intercus had to find a way forward and ultimately decided on a development partnership with DEG – Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH –facilitated by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) via its develoPPP.de-programme.

Intercus and DEG are training Vietnamese orthopaedic and trauma surgeons, with a view to providing sustainable and professional care for people with impairments. At the same time, local doctors use and see the value of Intercus products. Fundamental to the partnership is the launch of two training centres in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, made possible by DEG using develoPPP.de funding.

A local consulting company, Hanoi IEC, is supporting Intercus and DEG on the ground. As a partner of the State Development Corporation of Thuringia (LEG), it specialises in knowledge and technology transfer from Germany to Viet Nam, making it the first port of call for the Thuringia-based Intercus.

Managing Director Nguyen Thi Thanh Tam says, ‘I’d already worked on a couple of develoPPP.de projects and so I was immediately in favour of the concept of further training for trauma specialists. We are now a local distribution partner for Intercus and are helping to organise training activities. We are also establishing contacts with provincial hospitals so that we can reach doctors outside the big cities.’

A training centre for orthopaedic and trauma surgery – the first of its kind – has already opened its doors in Hanoi. Here, in a specially designed product showroom, Intercus is able to present its products and demonstrate their use in workshops. The second training centre was set up in the offices of Hanoi IEC in Ho Chi Minh City and is due to be expanded shortly.

More than 35 specialised training courses with German and Vietnamese trauma experts have been held in the training centres and in more remote areas of Viet Nam. 19 Vietnamese professors and doctors have also taken part in training in German hospitals.

‘Successful treatment depends on three factors,’ says Professor Luu Hong Hai. ‘First, high-quality implants; second, a comprehensive range of instruments; and third, highly skilled personnel – and we can learn a lot from the Germans here.’ This highly regarded former director of the Institute for Orthopaedics and Traumatology at the Central Army Hospital ‘108’ in the north of the country is one of Viet Nam’s top specialists.

Having agreed to become involved in the Intercus and DEG training programme, Professor Hai has since accompanied the project team on trips to other provinces, where he trains prospective medical specialists in innovative operation techniques.

Professor Hai also recommends that his students use Intercus’ high-quality products. ‘There are other suppliers, of course, such Chinese and Indian companies supplying cheap imports,’ says Thomas Busch, ‘but the challenge is to persuade the Vietnamese that better quality comes at a higher price – and that we are prepared to pay more to ensure patient safety.’

Nguyen Ngoc Linh needs no convincing. ‘Intercus products are very advanced. The technology, design and quality – everything is perfect,’ he says. The 26-year-old, who is a senior operating room technician at three hospitals in Viet Nam, knows what he is talking about. ‘The plates are made of titanium, which is absolutely neutral, making it the safest material for implants. It promotes rapid healing, so it is the best option.’

Nguyen chose to become an Intercus trainer as well. Amongst other things, the project enabled him to spend two weeks in Germany. As an operating room technician who regularly assists and monitors colleagues’ operations, he is now constantly passing on his knowledge.

Professor Xuan Thuy, another of Intercus’ training partners, knows how important thorough training is, particularly in the medical field. ‘New companies often come to our country to sell us their products. But it doesn’t matter how good the products are; we can’t use them without the corresponding know-how and knowledge transfer, and this is what makes this development partnership so meaningful. Not only are we getting high-quality implants, but Viet Nam’s medical system is being improved sustainably as a result of the new surgical skills we are acquiring.’

This extensive networking between Vietnamese and German partners is a key factor in the project’s success and has been made possible through DEG contacts, among other things. ‘I am delighted that so many young people and leading professors are supporting our work,’ says Busch. ‘They are key multipliers for us, and we are already benefiting from this special relationship built on mutual trust. Everyone is happy to be involved in the project, and we publicise this every time we operate.’

To cement relations even further, the project partners are now planning their next move – a Vietnamese-German specialist association for orthopaedics and traumatology. Preparations are already under way, with just the last few bureaucratic hurdles still to be cleared.

Tam from Hanoi IEC is also positive: ‘With this first training centre, we have created a centre that is gradually becoming a point of reference. Our customers – doctors – are now prepared to pay for training, so we are confident that the centre will be able to do without external funding once the project is over.’

With regard to develoPPP.de, she adds, ‘The private sector is irreplaceable in development cooperation: it is the sole source of highly specialised know-how of the kind Intercus has in the field of medical technology, and that can make life easier for millions of people. With a programme such as develoPPP.de, this know-how can be made available to as many of them as possible.’

In Bad Blankenburg, meanwhile, production is now in full swing. Managing Director Thomas Busch is pleased. ‘The project is part funded, but we have invested quite a considerable volume of our own resources, too. And that’s why it’s so good to see this initial economic effect,’ he says. ‘I can already see from our sales figures, among other things, that we are making very good progress – and not just in economic terms. The Chinese have a saying: “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.” And in Viet Nam, we have sustainably contributed to people’s doing and understanding by boosting their surgical expertise.’

Facts | Figures

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trainings conducted.

Training

Two training centres were established with a product showroom and training workshop for orthopedic and trauma surgery.

New Products

The products of Intercus and other suppliers of medical technology have been successfully introduced to the Vietnamese market.