Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien speaks as questioned about her responsibility on severe measles outbreaks at a government press briefing in Hanoi April 29. PHOTO: TRUONG SON
The health minister admitted poor guidance but refused to step down as the media questioned her responsibility on rising measles deaths and pressed a resignation decision.
Nguyen Thi Kim Tien said at the government press briefing Tuesday the outbreaks have been severe this year due to poor vaccination, people overcrowding Hanoi hospitals, and cold and humid weather in the capital city.
An unusual high rate of at least 133 children have died of the viral disease this year as of Sunday, mostly in and around Hanoi. Thousands of people, including many children and infants, have been infected.
Tien said many local hospitals are capable of treating measles, but the ministry has failed to adjust the flow of patients and left them to flock into Hanoi facilities like the Central Pediatrics Hospital, whose patients accounted for more than 70 percent of the fatalities so far.
“Measles death rate is usually not high, but crowded hospitals spread the disease and measles patients there got multiple other infections.
“The consequence would be not that heavy if [the ministry] was more determined in stopping people from crowding the Central Pediatrics Hospital.”
She said the ministry’s guidance and information regarding measles have been provided “drastically” since last July, only that they were not effective.
The ministry will establish a communication department to do a better job, she said.
“We know communication is a weakness of the health sector.”
The minister said she would have to take responsibility “to some extent” as the leader of the health authority.
“But I actually have not thought about resigning,” Tien said when asked by a Lao Dong newspaper reporter.
She said any member in the health sector needs to work at the top of their capacity now to push vaccination and limit deaths on the infected.
She also said she was appointed by higher authorities, including the Party and the legislature, and will "serve my best” and for as long as she is told otherwise.
The 55-year-old took the health ministry leadership in August 2011. Her public confidence dropped dramatically due to various fatal healthcare scandals like a series of delivery deaths at hospitals from early 2012, and nearly 15 infant deaths related to the administration of Dutch-made vaccine Quinvaxem from late 2012.
At the country’s first confidence vote in which the legislature members cast votes on government leaders revealed last June, Tien received 146 “low confidence” out of 482 votes, the forth highest number of negative votes cast on 47 officials.
She was then following Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who scored 160 “low confidence” out of 492 votes.
The Prime Minister was also pressed a “resignation culture” question by lawmaker Duong Trung Quoc at the legislature’s fall session, as the premier for the first time apologized for widespread corruption and inefficiencies as well as the financial debacles at the cosseted state-run enterprises.
But he also replied that he was put there to serve by the Party.
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