Vietnam factory workers need condom education, doctors say

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Children play at the Que Huong Charity Center in Binh Duong Province, southern Vietnam. They are results of unexpected pregnancies of factory workers who know little about reproduction health.

A pregnant garment worker in Binh Duong Province staying at the Que Huong Charity Center for pregnancy care intends to leave her baby there out of fear she won't be able to afford motherhood.

The woman, who only wants to be known as L.T.T., said she had been living with her boyfriend, and taking birth control medication, but erroneously thought she could not become pregnant from forgetting to take the pill once or twice.

The center, whose name means "motherland," is raising more than 300 children born of similar situations.

Doctors in the area said female workers know far too little about contraception, placing them at high risk for unplanned pregnancies, Tuoi Tre reported in a Monday report.

Nguyen Huu Hien, a reproduction health doctor based in Ho Chi Minh City, said most workers do not know about condoms.

"Condoms are old like the earth but still very new to many young workers.

"They do not know how to use one, which way to unroll it. They even blow air into a condom to check if it has any holes, making it unusable," he said.

The doctors said some female workers are "naive" enough to believe it when their boyfriends tell them that using condoms will suffocate them.

"My boyfriend never uses condoms," said a factory worker at the Marie Stopes International clinic in Binh Duong Province, a global nonprofit for sexual healthcare. Instead, they follow her menstruation cycle and have sex on days they believe eggs are not produced. Otherwise, he uses the pull out method, the woman said.

Doctor Nguyen Thi Le, director of the Binh Duong branch of the UK-based organization, said surveys by the group found that poor understanding, among other factors, have caused many factory workers in the area to become pregnant unexpectedly or contract STDs. She said the women with STDs may have remained ignorant of their condition without the survey, as they lacked the time and money to be screened.

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Recent examinations for 1,600 female workers at Chang Shin Company in Dong Nai Province found 552 of them suffered from  vaginal inflammation, cervical inflammation and uterine fibroids, Le said.

Freetrend, a company within the Linh Trung 1 industrial zone in Ho Chi Minh City's outlying Thu Duc District, where a newborn was found left in the toilet last year, is trying to fix the situation by giving more condoms to its workers.

Vu, a labor union representative of Freetrend, said workers used to have to enter the company's medical center to pick up the free condoms provided there, but most workers were too shy to come take them.

When the company recently placed the condoms in front of the factories, hundreds were taken the first morning, he said.

Tran Thien Long, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City Workers Supporting Foundation, said his unit will cooperate with others in the future to provide more sexual healthcare benefits for workers, and passing out condoms will be a vital part of that program.

"Thorough education and specific support will save the workers from consequences that can harm their health and their future.

"Businesses should consider this a practical labor policy," Long said.

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