Vietnam minister calls for calm in face of 8,500 measles cases, 114 fatalities

By Lien Chau, Thanh Nien News

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A father from Hung Yen Province carries the remains of his 9-month-old baby home after it succumbed to measles. The child died at the Central Pediatrics Hospital in Hanoi on April 16

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called for a national focus on fighting measles on Thursday after the Health Ministry acknowledged 8,500 cases nationwide.
Ministry statements said the figure includes 3,136 cases that have tested positive for the virus; the rest were considered possible cases as they have yet to develop telltale symptoms.
Measles cases have been reported in 61 out of Vietnam's 63 cities and provinces this year and at least 114 children have died so far.

In Hanoi, 105 deaths were reported by the Central Children's Hospital, four by the Central Tropical Diseases Hospital, two by Bach Mai Hospital. On Thursday, another baby died in the northern port city of Hai Phong. Two others were reported dead in nearby Yen Bai Province in January.

The Central Children's Hospital admits patients not only from Hanoi but nearby provinces as well.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien held her first meeting of the year on the measles situation with officials from the Central Children's Hospital in Hanoi, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The meeting was held after three Hanoi hospitals revealed alarming measles fatalities figures to Deputy PM Vu Duc Dam the day before. Dam said he visited the hospitals after reading a doctor’s Facebook post that described the situation as "ugly," citing too many deaths.

During the closed door meeting, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported that Takeshi Kasai, chief representative of the WHO in Vietnam told Tien that a country can announce a measles pandemic after three infections.

Tien reportedly replied there isn't enough conclusive evidence to announce a pandemic.
Doctors have said the damage from the virus this year has been huge, with many children developing severe respiratory complications, brain inflammation and inflammation of the heart muscles.
But the minister said genetic analysis shows the virus has not changed from previous years and the disease is just hitting its regular three to five-year peak.

“There’s no change yet in the effect of the virus and the infections remain lower than in 2009-2010 period.”

She also stood by the ministry’s earlier report of 25 fatalities, saying the ministry wished to distinguish cases killed directly by measles complications and fatalities caused by a combination of measles complications and pediatric heart disease or malnutrition.

The ministry has ordered Hanoi's three major hospitals to share overloads and doctors with three other hospitals in Hanoi – Thanh Nhan, Saint Paul and Dong Da-- to prevent the disease from spreading due to overcrowding.

The latest fatality figures include a 9-month-old from the nearby Hung Yen Province who died at a pediatric hospital during Tien's visit. The baby, Ho Ngoc P., was brought to the hospital suffering from a combination of pneumonia and measles.

PM Nguyen Tan Dung has instructed health authorities to focus on ensuring an adequate vaccine supply to children of age as a key measure to prevent the disease from worsening.

He ordered the ministry to equip the Central Children's Hospital, Thanh Nhan, and Dong Da with 12 respirators from the national emergency store as the number of severe cases developing pneumonia increased. 

He also set aside VND80.88 billion (US$3.8 million) from the state budget to provide the most crowded hospitals in Hanoi with necessary medicines and tools.

Measles capital
Health officials in Hanoi said they do not plan to announce a measles epidemic, yet, though the capital has reported the bulk of the country's cases and fatalities.
Figures from the capital's preventive health department showed that as of April 14, more than 1,500 cases have tested positive with the measles virus along with 1,300 possible cases.
The Health Ministry has only attributed 14 of the 25 fatalities in Hanoi alone directly to the measles virus.
Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc, vice mayor of the capital, told Tuoi Tre that more than 88 percent of the infected children were not vaccinated, blaming the illness on parents.
She said around 1,000 other children-of-age have not been vaccinated while Nguyen Nhat Cam, director of Hanoi Preventive Health Center, said at least 100,000 children in the city are not protected against the disease.
No deaths have been reported from in the south, though the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City said it has noted 3,083 cases of measles symptoms and 896 confirmed cases.
The institute noted that it has seen fewer and fewer cases as time has gone on.
Vietnam provides free measles shots to children, the first one from their ninth month and the second nine months later.
But as the vaccination has become highly sought after, many places including HCMC and the nearby Tay Ninh Province have announced their stocks are depleted.

Vietnam reported no measles outbreaks in 2012 and 2013 and planned to eradicate the disease by 2017.

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