Says another: “How many more children have to die before you declare an epidemic? If you still have some dignity, please resign and give the position to someone else with better qualifications and more willingness to do the job so that the people will suffer less.”
Other Internet comments suggest health officials are downplaying the crisis because of Vietnam’s commitments to eradicate measles by 2017 — inspiring this caustic Facebook post: “Through this we can see how talented our health minister is—too talented. Her motto is listening to no one, knowing nothing, seeing nothing.”
Criticism escalated when Tien seemed to minimize the undeclared epidemic by contending only 25 deaths were technically attributable to measles, even though scores children have died as a result of measles-related complications such as pneumonia.
The World Health Organization says it is “very concerned” about the outbreak, partly because WHO and UNICEF undertook an apparently less-than-successful vaccination campaign to eliminate measles from Vietnam by 2012.
In the age of the Internet, the message for Vietnam is the same as that for government agencies worldwide: Google knows and Facebook shares.
People who visit Vietnam for the first time often comment on the ingenuity they witness on the street as curious craftsmen and repairmen work magic with their hands. But every day, it seems, curiosity ends in tragedy.
Today’s tragedy is about three boys who were tinkering with a land mine left over from the war that they found on a construction site near the central Vietnamese city of Danang. It was mid-morning, and the boys were taking explosives out of the mine casing when their curiosity took both of Phan Van Hieu’s hands. He’s 11 and recovering in a hospital. The boys suffered other injuries as well.
Authorities in Vietnam are well aware of the danger unexploded ordnance poses to people in the countryside, especially curious boys. In this case, the area where Hieu was hurt was a former military base that supposedly had been cleared of mines before people were allowed enter it. But you can’t always get every mine.
It’s estimated that more than 16 million acres (one fifth of Vietnam) contain 800,000 tons of unexploded bombs, shells and landmines — concentrated in six central provinces and the city of Hue.
Since 1975, unexploded ordnance has killed more than 40,000 people and injured 60,000. That’s a relentless human toll of more than 3 deaths and 4 injuries a day.
A new report says the cancer death rate in Vietnam is among world’s highest, with 73% of 110,000 annual cancer cases resulting in death — which seems to underscore the urgency of Vietnam balancing the needs of its people and its economy.
Speaking in Vietnam’s capital, a director of Hanoi’s Bach Mai Hospital told an international conference on cancer that Vietnam’s cancer death rate far exceeds the 60% world average and 49% average for developed countries.
Vietnam’s most common cancers are lung, breast, large intestine, stomach, liver, prostate, uterus, cervix, esophagus, bladder, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, oral cavity, leukemia, pancreas, ovary and kidney. Women are six times more likely to have cervical cancer in Ho Chi Minh City than in Hanoi — where breast cancer is more common; men are more likely to have liver cancer in HCMC and lung cancer in Hanoi.
Cancer diagnoses are increasing by up to 30% per year, and the main reason most of the patients die is particularly concerning: They wait to see doctors until their conditions are in late stages.
These reports highlight two of Vietnam’s most urgent needs:
- Preventive health care and early diagnoses — People need to be encouraged to adopt healthy lifestyles (such as quitting smoking) and to seek medical care when they are sick; they also need confidence they will get and can afford quality care.
- Environmental protection — Many of the cancers that are killing Vietnamese people are linked to poor air quality, water pollution, food contaminants, and other environmental hazards.
Vietnam’s government has said much about its effort to balance the needs of people, environment, and economy. It’s incorporated in the communist philosophy. The latest cancer report is a stark reminder that Vietnam needs to balance its priorities.
Vietnam, a global leader in food exports, may soon be a top supplier of another agricultural product: herbal medicine. The Mercury News of Silicon Valley writes this month about the “king’s herb” (crinum latifolium) used for centuries to treat the royal family in the imperial capital of Hue for prostate problems and menopause — now being sold in and outside Vietnam as an herbal medicine.
More and more non-traditional medicines are likely to emerge from Vietnam in coming years because of a potent combination of venture capital from California, Vietnam’s vaunted bio-diversity that includes 12,000 plant species, and scientific research now taking place in Vietnam’s forests.
Despite the damage done to Vietnam’s flora during in the Vietnam War, the country maintains one of the world’s most diverse ecologies. And Vietnam has a history of linking plants with health. Today an entire street in Hanoi’s old quarter is devoted to nothing but herbal medicine.
The “king’s herb” is an example of an herbal medicine that is now available in the US. It has been sold as Crila in Vietnam since 2005 to 300,000 Vietnamese. Distributors in California contend the product reduces prostate problems, such as frequent or painful urination, and eases menopausal symptoms.
Crila likely represents just the beginning of a large export industry in Vietnam.
More on Vietnam’s traditional medicines
Vietnam’s health ministry has announced a radical increase in fees for 350 types of hospital services, in some cases more than 500%, but the prices for services even after the increases speaks volumes about the availability health care at a low cost in the country.
For example, the price of a medical examinations will rise 1,000% — to $1.60 per person. The cost of staying in a hospital bed fees will increase from just over $1 to about 5.50 per day, although most westerners would find Vietnamese hospitals uncomfortable at any price.
The government attributes the price increases to the use of new and advanced technologies in medical treatment.
More on Vietnam’s rising health care costs
Vietnam took a big step in its quest to modernize medical care and improve its health system overall when doctors performed the first heart transplant operation in the country — a two-hour operation in a Hanoi hospital that saved a 48-year-old patient from heart failure.
In Vietnam’s National Hospital for Heart Disease, 11,390 patients were hospitalized in 2008, and 30% needed transplants. Heart transplantation depends on the number of available brain dead patients, of which there are many in Vietnam because of the country’s epidemic of traffic accidents. Hanoi’s biggest trauma center, the Viet Duc Hospital, reports up to 1,000 patients die from brain trauma every year.
More on Vietnam’s first heart transplant
Four decades after the U.S. military dumped 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliants on Vietnam and destroyed and area of forest and cropland the size of Massachusetts (5 million acres), a panel of policymakers has a $300 million action plan to repair the damage that so far caused health problems for up to 3 million Vietnamese people.
The report, funded largely by Ford and Aspin Foundations, proposes spending $100 million to restore damaged ecosystems and clean up dioxin-contaminated sites and $200 million for care and treatment for Vietnamese with disabilities believed be related to exposure to dioxin, a component of Agent Orange.
Dioxin has been linked to cancer, birth defects and other ailments. A recent Canadian study estimated 100,000 people face a potential health risk from exposure to dioxin, which was found to be 100 times above safe levels in some Vietnamese people tested, and 400 times above international limits for soil, sediment and fish.
More on the agent orange cleanup in Vietnam