BAC KAN — People can easily buy a small nylon bag of pills, so-called energy-boosting medicine for VND5,000 (US20 cents) at fairs in Bang Thanh Commune in the northern province of Bac Kan.
|Ethnic vendors sell herbal medicines in the northern province of Bac Can. Few buyers are aware that many of the prepared herbal medicines have been found to contain high amounts of lead, according to local authorities. — VNA/VNS Photo Manh Thanh
The monthly gatherings are where locals sell, buy and exchange goods, including freshly gathered or prepared traditonal medicines from the forest. Medicine and unknown origin pills sellers operating without any licences or medical certificates can collect or buy a variety of herbs to treat everything from skin problems to coughs and flu.
One seller, Sam Thi Ly, says all her herbs come from the forest and are prepared according to her family's secret formula. She claims they are good for re-invigorating the livers and kidneys.
However, few sellers, or buyers, know that many of the prepared herbal medicines – not the fresh herbs – have been found to contain high amounts of lead. Last year, this led to a Government ban on such sales.
It is believed that many of the deadly preparations are smuggled in from China, where lead is sometimes added to provide an auspicious red colour. Health authorities have advised people to only buy fresh medicines gathered in Viet Nam or preparations prescribed by a traditional and licensed Vietnamese doctor.
Earlier this year, more than 130 people, mostly children, were admitted to Ha Noi-based Bach Mai Hospital with lead contamination allegedly caused by these preparations. Lead contamination can cause nervous-system disorders, loss of consciousness and paralysis, said health experts, adding that it could take several years to treat the problem.
Hoang Van Linh, deputy director of the provincial Health Department, said many inspections had been carried out and large quantities of drugs seized. Linh said his department had previously discovered a high amount of lead in preparations and urged people not to buy them, but the situation had changed little.
He said his department could only check the medicines, but had no right to question violators. "We need more participation of police and market watch to cope with the problem," he said.
Linh also said that many residents in mountainous provinces traditionally bought drugs at fairs and could not afford to go to hospitals or clinics. — VNS