Mekong Delta sets sterilization "record'

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In a population control scam, officials sign up men for sterilization by assuring them it would not actually be done, but they would receive some "˜support money' and health insurance

Tam, 45, a daily laborer in Hau Giang Province's Chau Thanh A District, said he agreed to sign up for a vasectomy scam to get some money and health insurance support promised by population control officials though he did not actually have to have the surgery

Nguyen Minh Huong, a 46-year-old farmer in the Mekong Delta who is single, is not very sure whether he is sterile or not.

Officially, he is not.

Local health authorities in Hau Giang Province's Chau Thanh A District had convinced him to conduct a vasectomy part of a long-term nationwide population control plan in Vietnam, ranked 13th in the world with 88 million people.

Huong agreed to the vasectomy because officials "mobilized" him by telling him it will be an exercise on paper, and that he would be paid for his approval.

"When some officials of the Mot Ngan Town mobilized me to sterilize, I told them I am not married and have no children. However, they told me to register and said they will not do it actually but I will receive a support of VND620,000 (US$30), rice and health insurance. So I agreed," he said.

Huong said a local official took him to the district hospital where he was taken to the operation theater, but as promised, there was no surgery performed.

"A doctor checked my blood pressure, gave me an injection and asked me to stay in the bed for one hour before going home. They gave me the money and health insurance (card) before I left," he said.

Huong's account was corroborated by many residents in Hau Giang Province when Vietweek investigated the issue. The residents said local authorities asked them to register for sterilization saying no surgery will be performed. They said the aim apparently was to record high achievement in propagandizing population control measures.

Sterilizing the poor

Tam, a 45-year-old daily laborer of Chau Thanh A District's Mot Ngan Town, said he is married and has two children. When local officials asked him to sterilize, he agreed because of the "support money."

"We are poor and struggle every day to make ends meet. When the officials promised the support, rice and insurance card, I agreed, hoping to earn a little money and the insurance in case I fall sick," he said.

Unlike Huong, Tam said he did not even go to the hospital. "An official came to my house, asked me to sign some paper and gave me the insurance card."

The insurance card, it turns out, was another fraud perpetrated on the poor residents. Tam said the district hospital has rejected his card saying it is only for treatment of complications from sterilization. It was Tam who tipped Vietweek off about what was happening with a letter he wrote to the paper.

Another man in town, who wanted to be identified as T., said he was actually operated on, but the sterilization surgery was not necessary because his wife had been operated for uterine fibroid.

"The doctor said he would only make a symbolic cut on my body," he said.

Vietweek found at least 11 other cases in which local men claimed they signed up for vasectomy on the promise that the procedure would not be done.

Champion district

Vo An Ninh, director of Hau Giang Health Department, said Chau Thanh A District has maintained a leading position in sterilization over the past two years.

Le Thi Hong, director of Chau Thanh A Population and Family Planning Center, said there were 329 sterilizations in the district so far this year, mostly of men.

"We offered Mot Ngan Town a target of eight cases but they achieved 98," she said.

According to Hong, each man undergoing vasectomy would be supported with more than VND2 million both in cash and rice and a health insurance card for treatment of sterilization complications, if any.

Vietweek found that in general, the men who underwent the allegedly fake vasectomy received between VND200,000 and 300,000 in cash, an unspecified quantity of rice and an insurance card for treatment of sterilization complications.

Hong rejected the residents' accusation that local authorities had asked them to register and have the procedure done on paper.

"The sterilization procedures have been conducted at the hospital and monitored by the district's health agency and the population agency. There was no fake sterilization," she said.

Semen analysis

Ninh told Vietweek his agency will investigate the accusations involving sterilization works in Chau Thanh A District.

Many doctors say it is easy to clarify if the vasectomy has been conducted or not.

"The most effective way to test if a man is sterilized is to conduct a semen analysis," Dr. Ho Manh Tuong, general secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Association, said.

"A test result with no sperm will prove that the vasectomy was actually conducted," he said.

Commenting on sterilization propaganda work in Chau Thanh A District, Dr. To Thi Kim Hoa, director of the HCMC Population and Family Planning Agency

said central agencies often give annual sterilization targets to each city or province.

"Sterilization is voluntary and is advised for couples who have had their expected number of children, normally two. However, there are many other birth control measures," she added.

Several doctors speculated some local population officials have been put under pressure by the sterilization targets.

But Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Thong, director of the HCMC Reproductive Healthcare Center, said there was no excuse to convincing single persons to undergo any form of sterilization.

"No one should mobilize unmarried men or those who are married but have no children to have a vasectomy... They should only mobilize those who have enough children, volunteer to conduct the measures and are unable to take other contraceptive measures," he said.

Tran Thanh Lap, deputy chairman of Hau Giang People's Committee told Vietweek on Tuesday (December 25) that his agency will set up a team to investigate cases reported by the paper.

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