Vice director of the Health Ministry's Preventive Medicine Department Tran Thanh Duong spoke with Tin Tuc (News) about measures to curb a serious outbreak of hand-foot-mouth disease
The majority of localities are usually reactive rather than proactive when it comes to dealing with hand-foot-mouth disease (HFMD). Is this the reason why it has become harder to control over the past two years?
The complicated development of the disease has been caused by many factors.
The disease affects the digestive system and spreads through direct contact with infected people. Even healthy people can carry the virus without showing symptoms. At the moment, there is no vaccine or specialised medicine to treat the disease.
Low hygiene among child carers along with a lack of clean water and sanitation increases the risk of the disease spreading.
On the other hand, authorities have not done enough to prevent the disease from spreading or raise public awareness. Consequently, many localities are not prepared to deal with the disease. Last year, a lack of funding led to poor preventive activities such as raising awareness, investing in medical equipment and sterilising the environment. Take central Ninh Thuan Province for example, the province only announced an outbreak of HFMD after the disease had already claimed two lives. The provincial People's Committee had only spent VND200 million (US$9,600) on preventive activities, so the ministry had to step in with a further VND7 billion ($336,000) to control the outbreak.
This has proved that in disease prevention and control, local authorities need to have the finances to prepare and respond to potential outbreaks.
Can you explain why there have been more cases in the northern region this year, and is it possible we will have an outbreak of HFMD in Ha Noi?
In my opinion, there is a high risk of an outbreak in Ha Noi. Since the start of the year, 617 cases have been reported in the capital, but no fatalities.
It's hard to clarify the reason for the increasing number of cases in the north. As I mentioned before, outbreaks of the disease depend on many factors, so we need time to study it.
What new measures have been taken this year to prevent and control the spread of HFMD?
The Health Ministry has established inspection teams and sent them to 20 localities that have been worse affected by the disease, including Hai Phong, Dong Thap, Hau Giang and Ca Mau.
The Minister has also asked for awareness of the disease to be raised through the media and by leafleting households, especially those with children under three years old.
She asked hospitals to review their facilities and capacity and improve if necessary to meet potential demand and minimise fatalities.
Do some localities avoid declaring outbreaks of HFMD, and if so, how can we prevent this?
The Prime Minister has asked centrally-governed cities and provinces to closely follow the development of the disease via a public note issued on August 18, 2011. In addition, the Law on Communicable Disease Prevention and Control regulates that outbreaks of HFMD must be made public, so announcing an epidemic depends on local authorities and their capacity to deal with the disease.
Regardless, the health sector needs to continue implementing preventive measures.
I don't think the health sector would intentionally hide outbreaks of HFMD, on the contrary, they would receive more support from local authorities in such instances. — VNS