Babies receiving HFMD treatment at the Children's Hospital No.1 in Ho Chi Minh City. PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE
Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam has ordered the health ministry to issue honest reports and quick guidance to ensure a decisive victory over the viral outbreaks plaguing the nation's children, during an emergency meeting on May 11.
Measles has claimed the lives of 138 children this year (four each in the past two weeks) prompting the Sunday meeting.
At the same time, reports of dengue fever and hand, foot and mouth disease cases have been picking up.
Tran Dac Phu, head of the Preventive Health Department at the health ministry, reported that there are still 30-40 new measles cases a day.
Although the infections and deaths have all dropped since the April peak, a grave threat remains, Phu said.
Most of the casualties have been children under five.
Vice Minister Nguyen Thanh Long and Nguyen Viet Tien both said there's a risk of measles outbreaks within hospitals in and around Hanoi, the area which has reported the most deaths so far.
The parents of a 13-year-old boy from Vinh Phuc Province (outside Hanoi) filed a lawsuit in late April against the Central Pediatrics Hospital after their son died following his release from treatment.
The boy, who was treated for pneumonia, is one of many children who contracted measles while under treatment for other illnesses.
Meanwhile, dengue fever has killed at least three children in Ho Chi Minh City while new HFMD cases have risen to around 1,000 a week.
“Health authorities need to be proactive about providing information and guidance,” Dam said at the meeting. "We have to stay one step ahead, and be honest, in order to build public trust and prevent further outbreaks."
The deputy PM in charge of national health issues said he called a government meeting during the weekend as measles continue to persist amid multiple outbreaks of other viral illnesses.
The ministry has reported a recent drop in new infections and 1.2 million new vaccinations.
Dam said all reports sound like the ministry has been doing a good job, but the fact is it's had little impact.
Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien admitted the agency's poor communication capacity has somewhat hindered its ability to fight the multi-pronged outbreak.
Tien said she doesn’t have enough people with an expertise in both medicine and communications.
Dam suggested that the ministry be clear and honest in its guidance and warnings.
“Messages sent out need to be simple, comprehensive and impressive -- like advertisements -- to make people pay attention and follow instructions.”
He said the ministry may open a public competition for a healthcare propaganda video contest to collect creative propaganda ideas. The contest may also be a way to draw public attention, he said.
He dismissed the ministry’s request for establishing a committee for fighting diseases, saying it is not necessary as the ministry can draw on government assistance whenever needed.
He cited as an example the numerous calls for swift action against measles by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in April.
Dam said if necessary, the ministry can ask the government to add more vaccines to the list of 11 free shots administered to children under the national extended vaccination program.
There are 30 pediatric vaccines available on the market but excluded from the program, including a shot for chickenpox which has also broken out in Ho Chi Minh City recently.
There is no vaccine for HFMD, yet. The illness causes blisters on the hands and feet and sores in the mouth; it further causes damage to one’s respiratory system and can cause blood contamination. Treatment requires the use of respirators and blood dialysis.
HFMD peaks in April - May and September- November.
It killed 41 out of roughly 110,000 patients in 2012 and 169 the year before out of roughly the same number of patients.
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