Quintuplets: medical achievement or social failure?

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Five babies conceived through fertility treatment were born in Ho Chi Minh City on March 17. It's time Vietnam issued regulations on restricting multiple births to twins to guarantee that the babies are complete and have the best of health.

On March 17 a woman from Ho Chi Minh City made headlines after successfully giving birth to five babies three boys and two girls.

All the babies, who were conceived through fertility treatment, namely intrauterine insemination, seem to be doing quite well, even though they weigh just 1.3-2 kilograms each.

It was the first ever quintuplet birth recorded at the Tu Du Hospital, a leading ob-gyn hospital in HCMC.

Newspapers have reported the event as though it were a laudable medical achievement, ignoring the risks associated with multiple births. Journalists should have interviewed experts on how to prevent multiple births, especially those involving fertility treatments.

In fact, many doctors have expressed concerns when asked about multiple pregnancies.

Dr. Vo Duc Tri, deputy chief of the Newborn Department at Children Hospital 1 in HCMC, said multiple births pose threats to both the mother and the babies.

They increase the risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnant women a disorder that can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and death of the mother and/or the baby, he said.

Chances of premature deliveries are also higher, given that 66 out of every 100 cases of twins see the babies born ahead of due time, Tri said. Prematurely born babies are likely to have health problems including physical underdevelopment.

Moreover, the consequences of multiple pregnancies last even after deliveries.

The mother is easily under stress as she has to take care of many babies at the same time, Tri explained. Children with defects due to premature deliveries are burdens not only to themselves but also their family and the whole society.

In an earlier interview with a newspaper, Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Viet Tien said: "It is a medical advance that we have successfully applied assisted reproductive technologies to help infertile couples become fathers and mothers.

"But, it will be a greater advance if we can restrict multiple births [that happen as a result of such technologies]."

This is the correct stance, and we can see that many countries have already limited multiple pregnancies to twins to guarantee that the babies are complete and have the best of health.

However, the deputy health minister's stance has not extended to action. It is important that the Ministry of Health and other related agencies issue detailed regulations and take action to protect the health of mothers and children.

In the quintuple birth case at Tu Du Hospital, it was reported that doctors had actually consulted the mother and her family about terminating some of the fetuses, but the latter had refused.

Given the absence of effective intervention from concerned agencies, the birth of quintuplets at the Tu Du Hospital is a failure, not an achievement.

We should also think about the long and complex surgeries undertaken to remove giant tumors that the media have recently reported and praised as great successes.

When medical advances fail to detect and treat tumors right at the beginning, we should temper our touting the complicated surgeries as major achievements.

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