HCMC ignores cholera threat brought by street stalls

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Health officials and experts warn that street stalls are likely to spread cholera, but other officials and residents of the southern Vietnamese metro pay no mind


Many street stalls surround the 115 People's Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City has recorded seven cholera patients in the last two weeks, the most out of all five localities hit by the disease so far this year.

Five of them were found contracting the virus from a street stall in front of Hong Bang Secondary School in District 5.

Phan Van Nghiem, an official from the HCMC Department of Health, said the cases demonstrated that the risk of contracting the acute intestinal infection from street stalls was high.

However, students and even their parents are still eating at street stalls where sellers process food by hand without wearing gloves.

Everything from little rice paper rolls to fruits soaked in sugar water and syrup could be a threat, experts have said, mainly because there was no mechanism to test and certify street vendors' products.

Asked about food safety after a student was recently admitted to a hospital with cholera, a seller of fried fish balls in front of the Hong Bang Secondary School said: "It's okay. [The student contracted cholera because] she is unlucky.

"I've run my stall here for years and no student has gotten cholera."

Bach Van Hop, president of the HCMC University of Education, whose campus is surrounded by street food stalls, told Thanh Nien that the university is aware of the risks from the possibly unhygienic and unsafe food being sold.

"But, I have to say it is a difficult question that the school has yet to solve."

According to Hop, the university has asked local authorities and police in District 5, where his school is located, to "deal" with the stalls for many times to no avail.

Whenever authorities and police aren't on patrol, things stay unsafe, the president said

 

Nghiem of the city's health department said business at the stalls was too good and neither vendors nor those enjoying the food were about to be scared away by a few cases of cholera.

But he said the consequences of a mass-cholera outbreak could be more severe than people were imagining.

And street food does not only surround schools, but it also surrounds major hospitals and apartment blocks in HCMC.

Sellers also don't wear gloves and rarely wash dishes with soap, Thanh Nien reporters observed. They often just rinse their wares with water once or twice before using them again.

Bad water

City health officials are concerned that cholera could be spread via waterways after a father and son from a floating village in District 7's Tan Thuan Ward were recorded as the city's latest cholera patients on April 19.

The HCMC Department of Health subsequently said it was impossible to treat the whole river for the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.

The department has instead sent 5,000 liters of clean water and distributed preventive drugs to the village, which is currently home to 51 people who live on 14 boats. Local people's boats and clothes have also been sterilized.

At a meeting on cholera on April 19, Le Truong Giang, vice director of the HCMC Department of Health told southern officials that cholera could spread among the one million non-residents who come in and out of the city each day.

Currently between 80 and 100 people are admitted to the city's hospitals with diarrhea each day, according to Nghiem from the health department.

According to the health ministry's Department of Preventive Health and Environment, cholera, which hit hundreds of people during a severe outbreak in northern Vietnam in 2008 and 2009, had hit five provinces and cities this year.

The Mekong Delta province of An Giang was the first-stricken province with seven cases, including three people from Cambodia, reported in January.

Experts said the province, which borders Cambodia, was at high risk of the disease due to the large number of people traveling back and forth between the neighboring country, where three of over 300 patients with cholera have already died this year.

Tran Ngoc Huu, head of HCMC's Pasteur Institute, said they would work with Cambodian health agencies to help prevent the disease from spreading across the border.

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