Rafi Kot, an Israeli physician who has an unexpected role as a key decision maker in Vietnam’s efforts to cope with the new coronavirus, admits the country was taken by surprise by the epidemic.
But three weeks after its first case was confirmed, it seems the Southeast Asian country has achieved something South Korea and Italy have not, by containing the virus. Vietnam has had no confirmed cases since February 13, and all 16 people who were infected have recovered.
“It’s an enigmatic disease,” Kot said in an interview, explaining the challenges health officials in Vietnam faced and those in Israel may be facing in the weeks ahead. Excerpts from the interview appear below.
Doctor Rafi Kot.FMP
“First, the biggest problem is that the coronavirus was the perfect epidemic because it happened just as millions of Chinese and Vietnamese were traveling for Chinese New Year. That was a major factor in its spread. Second, it’s different because in contrast to SARS, for example, it infects people long before they show symptoms. A large number of patients have no idea they’re sick and continue to go around and spread it.”
A family doctor, Kot has lived in Vietnam for 32 years. “I built the first health care system for the tribes of North Vietnam and the northern delta in 1988. Afterward, I spent a year in North Korea during the great famine. Then I returned to Vietnam and opened a network of clinics in the country,” he said.