An ad for a weight-gain pill on a Facebook page with photos of a girl taking it (left) and samples of the pill. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre
Many women in the north are giving their children weight-gain pills that could pose a threat to health, according to doctors.
Tuoi Tre newspaper said the Facebook page “Hai Phong Mothers and Babies Association” in late February carried an advertisement for a medicine that stimulates digestion and helps weight gain by a member nicknamed Ha Pham.
She has also posted a video of herself giving the pill to a girl introduced as hers, plus some “before and after” photos to tout its effect. The tablet is said to cost VND6,000 each.
She says in it: “It is meant for undernourished children and those with a poor appetite. It stimulates the digestion, causing the children to feel like eating, and helps put on weight in one or two weeks.”
She says it works the same way for adults, and guarantees its efficacy, claiming it is from Germany.
Since many Vietnamese women have an obsession about their children’s body size -- weight and height numbers have become one of the biggest social topics these days -- Pham managed to attract many customers.
One of them, who only wanted to be identified as Nguyen Lan P., called to order after seeing the ad, and was told to wait for the medicine to arrive from Germany.
She was asked to come and get it a week later, but she discovered the medicine came without a label or even packaging.
She was given 56 of them in a plastic bag, and asked to give her child four pills a day for two weeks.
P. said after taking the medicine her child slept better, stopped fussing about eating, and put on a kilogram in a week, and its face became plump.
But when she stopped the pill, the child again began to refuse food and the face became skinny, she said.
She told Tuoi Tre: “So I went to the [Facebook] page to ask about the symptoms and saw that many mothers from the city, Hai Duong Province, and even Hanoi have bought the medicine.
"They asked the seller to name the medicine and its ingredients, but the seller was evasive.”
The newspaper said the person calling herself Ha Pham first had the drug prescribed to her daughter by local doctor Dr Pham Thi Tao, and then started promoting it after seeing its effect on her child.
Tao said the pill is a corticosteroid used to prevent allergic inflammation in children, which also has the effect of stimulating the appetite.
“Using the right dose will not harm anyone’s health,” Tao said, saying a baby girl in her family was also given the drug to make her eat more and gain weight.
But Nguyen Dinh Trinh, chief inspector of the Hai Phong Department of Health, said Tao’s advice should not be taken seriously since she runs an unlicensed clinic.
His department has ordered Tao to stop running the clinic and selling medicines, and is investigating the unlicensed online drug trade.
Trinh confirmed that it was a corticosteroid after looking at a sample, but said it is a prescribed drug that is not to be sold over the counter.
The drug does stimulate digestion and stores water to make one look fat.
Lam Quoc Hung, head of the poison control team at the health ministry’s Food Safety and Hygiene Department, told Tuoi Tre that extended use of corticosteroids would hinder the discharge of water from the body, leading to edema, or swelling from fluid accumulation in body tissues.
“Putting children on corticosteroids for a long time can lead to brittle-bone disease and a decline in the immune system.”
He said using medicines of dubious origin is an act of ignorance.
Members on some mothering websites also share stories of using Chinese herbs sold in bottles to help their children gain weight, but doctors warned that this could cause kidney failure.
An unidentified nephrologist said some patients in the early stages of kidney decline used traditional herbs recommended by neighbors, and their condition worsened and they had to resort to dialysis.
Hanoi’s leading hospital Bach Mai has admitted a number children with lead poisoning due to consuming a dubious powder that had been advertised as a solution for poor eating and low immunity.
Doctors said a child’s appetite should be improved with vitamins and more hours of outdoor activity.
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