Neonatal deaths under reported in North Vietnam – study

HONG KONG, March 28 (Reuters) – The number of babies who die within their first 28 days of life in northern Vietnam is four times higher than official figures, a study has found and researchers called for more accurate statistics.

Without proper statistics, the researchers feared Vietnam would be missing out on international aid that is geared towards improving child survival rates.

“Such data would highlight the need for national and international health initiatives and for the provision of sufficient funds to implement them. Without valid statistics, many children could be dying unnecessarily at birth,” they said.

Their findings were published in the latest issue of the open access journal BMC International Health and Human Rights.

“Initiatives by … NGOs will not be backed up by statistics and local authorities will not act to solve a problem they do not perceive they have. On the contrary, local authorities might even encourage under-reporting in order to gain approval and rewards from higher levels,” the researchers in Vietnam and Sweden wrote.

Through surveys and interviews with healthcare workers in Quang Ninh province in northern Vietnam, the researchers found that neonatal mortality stood at 16 for every 1,000 births.

This compared to the official figure of just 4 in 1,000.

In Vietnam, families are responsible for registering newborns within 30 days of birth while those in remote areas must do so within the first 60 days.

But many parents do not see an urgent need to register and those living in remote areas do not have easy access to registrars, according to the report.

Furthermore, Vietnam has a two-child policy and imposes a fine for the third child onwards, which discourages families from registering their children.

Deaths are even less recognised.

“When there is a death, there is no death certificate, and the family seldom registers the event,” according to the report. (Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn)

Vietnamese man, on anti-abortion mission, opens home to moms and babies

April 1, 2008: Read the update on Tong Phuoc Phuc story HERE.

NHA TRANG, Vietnam: Sitting cross-legged on a straw mat in the middle of the living room, Tong Phuoc Phuc sings a soothing Vietnamese lullaby. For a moment, his deep voice works magic, and the tiny room crammed with 13 babies is still.Phuc giggles like a proud papa. He’s not related to any of them, but without him, many of these children likely would have been aborted. And to Phuc, abortion is unimaginable.
The 41-year-old Catholic from the coastal town of Nha Trang has opened his door to unwed expectant mothers in a country that logs one of the world’s highest abortion rates. In 2006, there were more than 114,000 abortions at state hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City — outnumbering births.Most pregnant, unmarried Vietnamese women have few options. Abortion is a welcome choice for many who simply cannot afford to care for a baby or are unwilling to risk being disowned by their families.The communist government calls premarital sex a “social evil.” Abortion, however, is legal and performed at nearly every hospital. And unlike in some Western countries where the issue is hotly contested, the practice stirs little debate here.

But shelters for women who want to keep their babies are rare. Phuc promises them food and a roof until they give birth, and then cares for the children until the mothers can afford to take them. In the past four years, he’s taken in 60 kids, with about half still living in his two houses.

“Sometimes we have 10 mothers living here … sleeping on the floor,” says Phuc, a thin man with dark, weathered skin and teeth stained brown from years of smoking. “The problem is that a lot of young people live together and have sex, but they have no knowledge about getting pregnant. So they get abortions.”

Phuc says he made a deal with God seven years ago when his wife encountered complications while in labor with their son. He vowed that if they were spared, he would find a way to help others. As his wife lay recuperating after the difficult birth, he recalls seeing many pregnant women going into the delivery room but always leaving alone.

“I was wondering, ‘where are the babies?'” he says, cradling an infant in each arm. “Then I realized they had abortions.”

Phuc, a building contractor, started saving money to buy a craggy plot of land outside town. He then began collecting unwanted fetuses from hospitals and clinics to bury in graves on the property. At first, doctors and neighbors thought he had gone mad. Even his wife questioned spending their savings to build a cemetery for aborted babies.

But he kept on, and now some 7,000 tiny plots dot the shady hillside, many marked with bright red, pink and yellow artificial roses.

“I believe these fetuses have souls,” says Phuc, who has two children of his own. “And I don’t want them to be wandering souls.”

Vietnam was ranked as having the world’s highest abortion rate in a 1999 report by the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute, which tracks the statistics. More recent reliable data for both public and private clinics are unavailable. Aid agency Pathfinder International says abortions remain high in Vietnam but appear to be declining slightly.

Dr. Vo Thi Kim Loan has run her own clinic just outside Ho Chi Minh City since 1991. She says the number of young, unmarried women seeking quick, discreet abortions has increased with more teen girls having sex before marriage. She also still sees a steady stream of married women coming in for repeat abortions because their husbands disapprove of contraceptives.

Preference for boys is another factor. Vietnamese women with access to ultrasound sometimes terminate pregnancies after discovering they’re carrying girls in a country where couples are encouraged to have just two children.

Phuc isn’t sure why so many Vietnamese choose abortion and says more women need to understand safer forms of birth control are available.

He says word of his unusual graveyard eventually spread, and women who had undergone abortions started visiting to pray and burn incense. Phuc urged them to tell others considering the same option to talk with him first.

Phan Thi Hong Vu looks lovingly at her chubby 7 1/2-month-old baby boy sucking on a pacifier surrounded by all the other babies on Phuc’s floor. She shivers at the thought of how close she came to losing him.

“I actually went to the hospital intending to get an abortion, but I was so scared,” says Vu, who was 3 1/2 months pregnant at the time. “I decided to go home and think about it. Two weeks later, I met with Phuc.”

She moved into the 904-square-foot (84-square-meter) house soon after and remains there with seven other new or expectant mothers. They spend their days washing, feeding, burping, changing and playing with the babies — all but one are under a year old. The constant chorus of crying, coughing and cooing fills the living room, which is lined with pink and blue cribs and adorned with a crucifix, the Virgin Mary and a photo of the late Pope John Paul II.

It’s a full-time operation that involves Phuc’s entire family. His older sister manages the chaos, mixing vats of strained potatoes and carrots and preparing formula for bottles, while shushing crying babies and chasing crawlers. The entrance to the single-level cement house tells the story: rows of bibs, booties, jumpers and spit rags hang drying in the sun.

It costs about US$1,800 (€1,200) a month to care for all 33 babies and the women. Phuc gets donations from Catholic and Buddhist organizations and from people who have heard about his work. On a recent day, a local family dropped by with an envelope sent from their daughter in California who had read about Phuc on a Vietnamese Web site. Two years ago, he even got a letter from Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet praising him for caring for women and children scorned by society.

Health authorities say they support what he’s doing, but also keep a close eye on him to ensure everything is legitimate in a country where baby selling and child trafficking are a problem. Some people accuse Phuc of condoning premarital sex.

Phuc’s operation is not a registered orphanage, which means he cannot put any of the children up for adoption. But even if he could, he shakes his head and says his goal is to reunite each child with its mother or to raise them as his own. So far, 27 babies have gone home.

“I will continue this job until the last breath of my life,” he says. “I will encourage my children to take over to help other people who are underprivileged.”

Vietnam limits rice exports on food security concerns

Hanoi – Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has ordered authorities not to sign any more rice export contracts this year, the head of the Vietnam Food Association said Thursday. “The prime minister sent a letter to the Vietnam Food Association asking us to urge rice exporters to stop signing new rice export contracts and focus on implementing the contracts signed,” said Nguyen Thi Nguyet, chairwoman of the Vietnam Food Association.

The move is due largely to domestic food security concerns, officials said.

A February cold snap in the north of the country, which lasted an unprecedented 45 days, destroyed over 100,000 hectares of rice paddies. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates total damage at 14 million dollars.

“In northern Vietnam , a large area of rice was sowed 15 days behind schedule due to the cold spell,” said Trang Hieu Dung, director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s planning department. “This area may bear no rice if the hot season arrives when the rice is blossoming.”

Vietnam has signed contracts to export some 4 million tons of rice in 2008, a figure comparable to last year. Exports in the first quarter of 2008 were up 5.3 per cent year-on-year.

Earnings from rice exports, however, rose 43 per cent to 366 million dollars, due to rising global prices. Rice went up 70 dollars per tonne this week, worldwide.

February’s cold snap and rising global rice prices have led to price hikes across Vietnam.

The cost of rice in the domestic market has gone up some 20 per cent since the beginning of this year, with prices rising dramatically in the last month. Nguyet said prices have now stabilized.

Vietnam comes second to Thailand in the world export market, but in fact produces more rice. But Vietnamese typically consume more rice than Thai people, leaving less available for export.

Consumption is especially high in rural areas, where poverty tends to be much higher than in cities.

“Vietnam consumes more rice than other countries because the country’s living standard is still low,” Dung said. “What would people eat instead of rice?”

Consumption of the national staple crop is typically high in poor and developing countries, said Lisa Studdert, a health specialist with the Asian Development Bank in Hanoi. Dietary diversity improves as countries grow richer, though this has risks as well.

“Diets dominated by rice, with low consumption of vegetables and meats, will be low in iron, and that’s where you get high levels of anemia,” Studdert said. “But often the diversification will come in the form of white bread, donuts, cakes, and high-fat meats. So that has a downside to it.”

Vietnam is unable to increase its rice production to take advantage of higher prices, due to the scarcity of land. Rapid urbanization and industrialization are reducing the territory available for agriculture.

“We cannot increase the rice output because there are more and more people, while the land available for farming is shrinking,” said Dung. “Meanwhile, rice productivity cannot be raised any further.”,vietnam-limits-rice-exports-on-food-security-concerns.html