by Thanh Hai
Measles, a highly contagious respiratory disease, has killed 139 people, mostly children, in Viet Nam since the beginning of the year. No one died from the disease between 2011-13 and only four people died succumbed between 2009-10.
The latest figures have raised public concern about how the disease has managed to cause such heavy human losses, despite the health sector's regular preventive medicine programmes..
The Ministry of Health's Preventive Medicine Department yesterday reported that 4,395 people had caught the disease. The department's director, Tran Dac Phu, said that only 90 per cent of children had been vaccinated, meaning that about 10 per cent had missed out. This helps explain why there are outbreaks every three to five years.
The ministry has obviously been late in implementing vaccination and providing adequate treatment. Many health experts say that the high fatality rate reflects this slow and confused response.
The public, especially parents of those who have died from the disease in central hospitals in Ha Noi, have strong doubts about the Government's response.
Ha Noi Preventive Medicine Centre director Nguyen Nhat Cam recently said that 30 per cent of measles infections and half of the deaths occurred at the National Paediatrics Hospitals in Ha Noi. Others died at Bach Mai Hospital and other leading hospitals. However, no deaths had been reported in south Viet Nam.
"The National Paediatrics Hospital has been overloaded with measles patients. many in a serious condition. The overloading of hospitals has caused difficulties in patient classification, quarantine and treatment," said Phu.
He said this had resulted in higher cross infections between measles patients and those with other diseases. Many children died after contracting measles and then suffering from acute breathing problems, heart failure and blood abnormalities.
However, Nguyen Hoai Thu, a teacher in Ha Noi, said measles fatalities had been lowered to some extent thanks to proper patient classification, quarantine and treatment at hospitals. But she agreed the number of fatalities would have been much smaller if the proper measure had been taken earlier. "Someone must take responsibility for the deaths of innocent victims of measles," said Thu.
However, measles vaccination rate, especially rate of the second shot of measles vaccine had reduced to below 90 per cent during the period 2011-13.
Director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Nguyen Tran Hien, said many parents and child-care givers were afraid vaccinations would cause adverse reactions, even though they were told the vaccine used in Viet Nam was one of the best and safest in the world.
"Up to 89 per cent of infections were in children who had not previously been vaccinated," said Hien. He said parents should take the main responsibility for their children's vaccination, adding that vaccination was the only way to eliminate measles. — VNS