Vietnam PM calls for swift action on measles

By Anh Vu, Thanh Nien News

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People wait to receive measles vaccinations at the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday. PHOTO BY LUONG NGOC

During an emergency meeting held Wednesday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung demanded that health authorities do a better job handling the fatal measles outbreak that is ravaging northern Vietnam.

“We have enough money, medicine and tools like respirators, so we must rise to the occasion and quell the outbreaks,” he said.
The virus had claimed 127 lives by Tuesday afternoon; most of the patients were children being treated at hospitals in Hanoi, Hai Phong and Nghe An.
During the meeting, Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien said the whole world is experiencing an outbreak of measles, though the disease has been especially persistent in Vietnam because of “bad weather in the north” and overloaded hospitals.
Infections were reported as early as last October.
Dung countered that health authorities only have themselves to blame for “having yet to provide good guidance.” 
Had the ministry taken steps to provide proper direction to hospitals and information to the media from the beginning, Dung said they could have reduced the number of infections by encouraging people to seek early vaccinations and prevented them from flooding into a small number of hospitals.
“People trust central hospitals, so, of course they brought their children there. We should draw some lessons from the public relations work so far," he said. "We can certainly do better."
After three years without any reported cases, Hanoi has become the nation’s measles hotspot with 1,339 patients--nearly half of the confirmed cases nationwide. Around 770 are still undergoing treatment, at home and at hospitals.
The PM said the media must ensure that people don’t abandon vaccination for traditional herbal therapies that have been recommended on social networks and parenting forums. “Those have limited effectiveness,” he said.
Tien said the ministry has issued 1.2 million measles vaccinations, enough to protect children of age nationwide.
The measles vaccines used in Vietnam are made in-country with Japanese support. They are given to children for free in two doses, administered during their ninth and 18th months.
Doctors said during the early phases of the outbreak that a recent drop in vaccination contributed to the severity of the present situation.
Many parents of infected children said they had been reluctant to vaccinate their infants following a spate of deaths linked to a free Dutch-made Quinvaxem vaccine starting in late 2012.
They would prefer to pay for their vaccines and many have paid to receive 3-in-1 shot that protects against measles, mumps and rubella and administered at 12 months.
Doctors said no complications have been reported from the free measles vaccine though.

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