Session of the seminar of the Chair of Anthropology and Global Health with Ayo Wahlberg, University of Copenhagen, Danemark.
Over the last six decades or so, a state-led effort to modernise, industrialise and integrate traditional herbal medicine has been underway in Vietnam. At the same time, national and international health authorities have long pointed out that most general health indicators in Vietnam surpass those of other countries with a similar per capita income. In this talk, I ask what place does traditional herbal medicine have in a country which is continuing to struggle with “an unfinished agenda in infectious, vector-borne and communicable diseases” (WHO 2003) while also coming to terms with “the adverse impact on health due to changes in lifestyles, environments and working conditions in the processes of industrialization and modernization” (Communist Party of Vietnam 2005)? I suggest that, mobilising traditional herbal medicine to address Vietnam's double burden of disease has required not so much a colonisation as a normalisation of its practice, production and use. Finding a 'Vietnamese' way to tackle health challenges has been and remains a key trope in politics of health in Vietnam.