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Government officials call for renewed efforts to combat an epidemic of child-related injuries

Children fishing at Dau Tieng Lake in the southern Tay Ninh Province, some 100 kilometers northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. Experts worry that child injuries could hinder the country's socio-development goals for years to come.

At a conference held earlier this week in Hanoi, authorities called attention to one of Vietnam's most glaring problems: child safety.

"We have children who must collect scrap metal for their livelihood and end up getting killed or injured by unexploded ordinance," said Nguyen Trong An, deputy head of the Department for Protection and Care of Children.

"We have children who have to cross makeshift bridges to go to schools. It's time to acknowledge that child injuries could push families [and the whole nation] into poverty."

An cautioned that Vietnam is in danger of failing to meet its Millennium Development Goal of reducing the under-five child mortality rate by two thirds.

Experts like An are pushing for a greater investment in a new nine-year program aimed at preventing child injuries. So far, government efforts to combat the issue have fallen flat.

Nearly 8,000 children and adolescents in Vietnam died from unintentional injuries in 2007. The causes included traffic accidents, poisonings and falls.

In April 2010 UNICEF and the Alliance for Safe Children released data indicating that child injuries account for almost half of the roughly 1.4 million child deaths recorded each year.

Water was still Vietnam's greatest killer. In December of 2008, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that 10 children drowned every day in Vietnam. Drowning killed nearly six times as many children as communicable diseases, the study found. Had the injuries been prevented, Vietnam's under-five mortality rate would have fallen by almost 40 percent.

A government campaign to reduce child injuries, launched in 2002, failed to have a substantive impact.

According to Pham Viet Cuong, director of the Center for Injury Policy, the $2 million effort did not manage to reduce the rate of injuries for children in many categories. "On many levels public awareness of this issue is still quite low," Cuong said. "In many localities, authorities and officials lack extensive knowledge about child injury prevention."

Cuong suggested establishing a national committee to deal with child injuries. He further advised the implementation of a centralized data system that could track child injuries and death rates across every locality.

Tran Quang Quy, deputy minister of Education and Training, said the ministry is looking to create mandatory swimming lessons in schools. Quy is also considering a curriculum that would teach kids how to prevent water accidents.

Regional officials seemed eager for the help.

In the southern Bac Lieu Province, drowning has killed more than 40 children since 2006. The province has recorded nearly 5,500 juvenile injuries in the same time period.

Vu Van Hoa, deputy chairman of Bac Lieu Province People's Committee - the local government - said many parents in the region have migrated to big cities seeking employment. In many cases, they've left their children in the care of elderly relatives.

"All of our efforts to educate the public failed to reduce accident rates," Hoa said. "Child injuries have caused major consequences in the lives of many families and yet, we still don't have a national program to deal with this issue."

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