Difficulties await Vietnam's "little dragons'

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Experts warn that children born in the supposedly auspicious Year of the Dragon will face a demographic crunch later

  Newborn babies on a trolley at the Central Obstetrics Hospital in Hanoi. Experts warn that children born in the Year of the Dragon, considered an auspicious year, will face difficulties later. Photo: Reuters

My Phuong was transferred to a bed in the outdoor corridor of an old building at Ho Chi Minh City's Tu Du Hospital soon after giving birth to a son last week.

She and her newborn now sleep in the same bed there, just like dozens of other mothers and babies. Their relatives sleep on the floor of the narrow hallway, around or even under beds nearby. On top of crumbling bricks, the hospital has set up temporary canvas awnings to protect them from the sun and rain. Everyone there shares the same toilet by the stairs.

There is one on each level of the building used by everyone occupying each floor's halls and corridors.

But Phuong's husband Vu does not mind the situation.

"We only stay here for a few days. The most important thing is that we have a Dragon son."

According to the Lunar Calendar, only one year in 12 falls under the dragon symbol and only one year in 60 is the "golden" dragon, so Phuong, a 23-year-old factory worker from the southern province of Binh Phuoc, is by no means the only woman in Vietnam happy to give birth this year.

The baby boom in the auspicious year is overloading obstetrics hospitals nationwide in Vietnam and threatening population targets.

Parents believing the Dragon year is auspicious are already suffering from poor services due to overloaded hospitals. Experts warn that even more difficulties await their children in the future, such as overstretched educational and social services and competitiveness in obtaining a job.

Dr. Nguyen Van Truong, director of HCMC's Hung Vuong Hospital, said he had thought that mothers from the provinces had flocked to the hospital following recent maternity deaths at lower-level hospitals at side the city.

"But we found that most of them are actually city dwellers and the increase has become intolerable," he told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, adding that the hospital has experienced an abnormal increase in mothers giving birth since the beginning of this year.

The HCMC Reproductive Healthcare Center recorded 82,911 births in the first six months this year, an increase of 11,000 over last year.

According to the Department of Population and Family Planning, more than 516,000 babies were born in the first five months this year, an increase of 13.5 percent over 2011.

Two patients, one bed

The increase has been reported at hospitals nationwide, saddling facilities and staff with a heavy burden

Dr. Truong of Hung Vuong Hospital said his staff were exhausted as the number of births had increased incessantly since April. The hospital recorded more than 31,000 births by August.

"On some days, we conducted eight births by cesarean section and they have to stay in the same operation room because the postoperative room is full," he said.

The situation is the same at the Tu Du Hospital. Dr. Pham Thanh Hai said the daily number of births at the hospital has increased from 136 early this year to more than 200 in September.

"Sometimes, two patients have to share one bed at the preoperative room as up to a hundred mothers were waiting to give birth," he said.

Hai said the number would increase in the fourth quarter because it would be the "birth-giving season".

Dr. Le Van Hien of the HCMC University of Medicine and Pharmacy Hospital said the hospital's 200 beds are not enough.

"Doctors and nurses have to work day and night under high pressure. Everybody is exhausted," he said.

The Hanoi Gynecology and Obstetric Hospital has been attaching beds together to get three mothers on two beds after they give birth.

Nguyen Thi Dung, who was sharing a two-bed setup with two other mothers, said there is little space between beds for relatives to visit mothers and babies.

"Giving birth is painful and scary. But staying like this is no less terrifying," she said.

Difficulties ahead

Experts said there is no evidence that children born in "auspicious" years are more intelligent or luckier than the rest, but there is in fact reason to believe that being born in a baby boom at this point in time might make their lives more difficult in the future.

Deputy health minister Nguyen Viet Tien said 2003 was considered a good year to give birth but children born in this year have faced more difficulties registering for kindergarten and primary schools.

"In the future, they will face more difficulties applying for jobs because competitiveness is harsher, due to the high number of applicants of their generation," he said.

Although gender selection is illegal in Vietnam, statistics about newborn babies showed a worse gender imbalance in favor of males due to the patriarchal influence of Confucian tradition.

According to the Population Department, there were 274,171 males and 241,998 females born in the first five months this year, equal to 113 males per every 100 females.

"This is a serious gender imbalance that could lead to long term social consequences," said department deputy director Nguyen Van Tan, adding that Vietnam may miss its target to reduce births in 2012.

At a conference to mark World Population Day on July 10, Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Hanoi-based NGO Institute for Social Development Studies warned that around three million Vietnamese men would not be able a wife in the next 20 years due to the gender imbalance.

Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Thong, director of the HCMC Reproductive Healthcare Center, said many parents who had decided not to have more children changed their mind after many people said that the year of the dragon is an auspicious year.

"Normally, the year of the tiger is considered not good to have a daughter but in reality, children born in this year have not faced difficulties in enrolling kindergarten and primary school like those born in the year of the dragon," he said, adding that educational facilities in Vietnam already fail to meet demand.

"These dragons will face more difficulties in enrolling at university because they are much more selective."

He said children born this year will find it hard to access healthcare services as some diseases and pandemics attack only people of a certain age group.

"I don't know how auspicious it could be. We have already made them suffer."

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