Vietnam - Society
In 2004 Vietnam's population was 82.2 million, and it was growing at a rate of about 1.2 percent per year. The average population density was 246 people per square kilometer, one of the highest levels in the world. The highest concentration of people was in the Red River Delta, in the northeast where Hanoi is located, and the lowest concentration was in the northwest. The population, which traditionally has been primarily rural, has become increasingly urbanized since 1986, when the Doi Moi economic renewal program began to boost income and employment opportunities in the cities. In 2004 about 26 percent of Vietnam's population was urban and 75 percent rural, down from 85 percent in the early 1980s. Vietnam's net migration rate was estimated at -0.45 migrant(s) per 1,000 population in 2004. Consistent with the trend toward urbanization, urban areas, such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang, and the Central Highlands, have attracted the most migrants. In addition, a steady stream of migrants continues to move from the North to the South. As of 2002, the two largest groups of refugees were Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese returning to Vietnam from Cambodia and the Montagnards from Vietnam's Central Highlands seeking asylum in Cambodia.
In 2004 Vietnam's age distribution was estimated as follows: 0 to 14 years of age, 29.4 percent; 15 to 64, 65 percent; and 65 and older, 5.6 percent. This age distribution signals slower population growth than in the past. According to 2005 estimates, Vietnam's birthrate was 17.07 births per 1,000 people, and the fertility rate was 1.94 children born per woman. The infant mortality rate was 25.95 per 1,000 live births, and the death rate was 6.2 per 1,000. Also according to 2005 estimates, life expectancy was 70.61 years for the total population, consisting of 67.82 years for men and 73.6 years for women. Ethnic Groups: Vietnamese are the predominant ethnic group, constituting 85 to 90 percent of the population. Chinese account for 3 percent of the population. Other ethnic groups are the Hmong, Thai, Khmer, Cham, and Montagnards, an indigenous group living in the Central Highlands.
Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. The Vietnamese have adopted a Romanized script introduced by the French during the colonial period. English is increasingly accepted as a second language. Some French language influence persists. Other languages used are Chinese, Khmer, and mountain area dialects.
Education and Literacy
In 2003 Vietnam's literacy rate was 94 percent, including 95.8 percent for men and 92.3 percent for women. However, educational attainment is less impressive. Although five years of primary school education are considered compulsory and 92 percent of eligible children were enrolled in primary school in 2000, only two-thirds completed the fifth grade. The cost of tuition, books, and uniforms and the need to supplement family income are the two main reasons for dropping out. A huge disparity exists in primary school enrollment between the cities and rural parts of Vietnam. In some rural areas, only 10 to 15 percent of the children progress beyond third grade, whereas almost 96 percent of pupils in Ho Chi Minh City complete fifth grade. In 2000 enrollment in secondary school was only 62.5 percent, much lower than in primary school. One of the government's goals is to expand access to secondary education.
The overall quality of healthcare is regarded as good, as reflected by 2005 estimates of life expectancy (70.61 years) and infant mortality (25.95 per 1,000 live births). However, malnutrition is still common in the provinces, and the life expectancy and infant mortality rates are stagnating. In 2001 government spending on health care corresponded to just 0.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Government subsidies covered only about 20 percent of health care expenses, with the remaining 80 percent coming out of individuals' own pockets.
In 1954 the government in the North established a public health system that reached down to the hamlet level. After reunification in 1976, this system was extended to the South. Beginning in the late 1980s, the quality of health care began to decline as a result of budgetary constraints, a shift of responsibility to the provinces, and the introduction of charges. Inadequate funding has led to delays in planned upgrades to water supply and sewerage systems. As a result, almost half the population has no access to clean water, a deficiency that promotes such infectious diseases as malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, and cholera. Inadequate funding also has contributed to a shortage of nurses, midwives, and hospital beds. In 2000 Vietnam had only 250,000 hospital beds, or 14.8 beds per 10,000 people, a very low ratio among Asian nations, according to the World Bank.
Vietnam has made progress in combating malaria, for which the mortality rate declined sharply, to about 5 percent of the rate in the early 1990s, after the country introduced antimalarial drugs and treatment. However, tuberculosis (TB) cases are on the rise, with 57 deaths per day reported in May 2004. With an intensified vaccination program, better hygiene, and foreign assistance, Vietnam hopes to reduce sharply the number of TB cases and annual new TB infections.
As of September 2005, Vietnam had diagnosed 101,291 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases, of which 16,528 developed acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and 9,554 died. But the actual number of HIV-positive individuals is estimated to be much higher. An average of 40-50 new infections are reported every day in Vietnam. Vietnam hopes to contain the HIV infection rate at the current official rate of 0.35 percent, which is about average worldwide, by limiting the disease as much as possible to sex workers and intravenous drug users. However, if the current trend continues, the number of infected persons could reach 1 million by 2010. One of the impediments to containing HIV/AIDS is that the victims face discrimination and stigmatization that are more severe than almost anywhere else in the world, according to a United Nations official. In June 2004, the Bush Administration announced that Vietnam would be one of 15 nations to receive funding as part of a US$15 billion global AIDS plan.
Vietnam's welfare efforts target victims of the Second Indochina War (1954-75), such as individuals disabled in combat or by toxic chemicals and the families of fallen combatants. About 5 million Vietnamese, corresponding to more than 6 percent of the population, are disabled. The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs administers welfare. Vietnam has legislated a social insurance system with provisions for old age, disability, and death; sickness and maternity; and work injury. Coverage is reported to be mandatory for state employees, non-state enterprises with more than 10 employees, and foreign-invested enterprises. Special programs are said to exist for government civil servants and armed forces personnel.
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