The Health Ministry hopes to put a Hanoi medical charity under a microscope after its unlicensed cleft lip and palate surgeries resulted in the deaths of three infants last month.
Tuoi Tre newspaper reported August 31 that an anonymous source at the ministry had said they'd instruct authorities in Hanoi to conduct a top to bottom investigation of the Center for Researching and Aiding Smile Operation (OSCA).
The ministry plans to closely examine OSCA’s cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries – also known as "smile operations"-- as well as its finances.
The charity, which was established in 2007, performed nearly 3,000 cosmetic surgeries on poor children nationwide until last month's trio of deaths halted its operations.
The tragedy quickly became national news and prompted an investigation that revealed OSCA was never licensed to perform the surgeries.
Health officials in Hanoi, where the organization is based, said OSCA was only allowed to research cleft lip and cleft palate syndrome and raise funds for surgeries.
On Saturday, August 23, an OSCA team traveled to the beach town of Nha Trang in the central province of Khanh Hoa and operated on 11 infants.
Nguyen Ngoc Tuyet Van, 11-months old, and Pi Nang Tuan Huu, 19-months old, suffered fatal complications after being sedated but before the surgeries could be performed.
Van died four hours after being admitted to Khanh Hoa General Hospital in a deep coma.
Huu was admitted an hour later, suffering seizures caused either by a lack of oxygen to her brain or an overdose of anesthesia--he died two days later.
Nguyen Quang Minh, 14-months old, perished due to post-surgical complications.
Minh was rushed to the provincial hospital on Saturday afternoon but died the next morning. Doctors said the cause of death was a respiratory and cardiac decline brought on by anaphylactic shock. They speculated that the anesthesia was the cause.
The eight other infants treated by the group were reportedly sent home without complications. A total of 56 babies were scheduled to receive treatment from OSCA last month but the tragic events caused the group to stop at 11.
They group allegedly performed similar surgeries in the province in 2012 and 2013 without incident.
Investigators from the health ministry, Hanoi and Khanh Hoa are looking into the surgical procedures used on the day in question.
OSCA’s anesthesiologist, Nguyen Thi Thanh Binh, said she administered sevoflurane and fresofol.
OSCA staff performed the surgeries but Military Hospital 87 in Nha Trang provided the operating rooms, equipment and medicine.
Tuoi Tre's unnamed ministry source said the investigators haven't gathered any clear information about the source of the drugs used, how they were stored or how they were administered.
“But the anesthesia machines had been left unused for a long time and were not designed for use on children,” the anonymous source said.
OSCA Chairman Pham Si Ai remains under police investigation for performing a breast augmentation surgery that killed a woman in 2011.
Investigators said that case appears unrelated to the deaths of the three infants since Ai wasn't involved in the actual procedures.
Radio Voice of Vietnam pointed to OSCA’s questionable fundraising practices.
A Radio VOV reporter quoted an anonymous source as saying that each "smile surgery" performed by the organization cost around VND5 million (US$236) but it usually sought for twice or three times that in fundraising before authorizing a single surgery.