Natural disasters out of control

Better forecasts and better emergency action was needed to mitigate the effects of climate change, said Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai.

He told a video conference yesterday that an estimated 50 people died each year in flash floods and landslides in Viet Nam.

Since 2000, mountainous provinces across Viet Nam had been hit by 250 flash floods and landslides, which left 646 dead and missing, and injured about 350 more.

The disasters also damaged more than 109,700 houses, submerged 75,000ha of rice and crops and destroyed many traffic and irrigation works, causing a total estimated loss of VND3.3 trillion (US$157 million).

An initial survey by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in 10 mountainous provinces found that up to 35 per cent of the land, particularly in Lao Cai, Lai Chau, Son La, Yen Bai and Nghe An, was vulnerable to landslides during the rainy season.

"Although many preventive measures were taken, we still failed to control the number of deaths and the amount of losses caused by natural disasters, Hai said.

Stepping up communication work was one of the most important measures to reduce damage in mountainous areas, he said.

The deputy PM also urged localities to draw up maps of areas at high risk of flash floods and landslides and create response plans for residents, such as evacuating dangerous areas and building disaster observation and early warning stations.

They should also pay attention to promoting scientific research on early warning of natural disasters and keeping up with afforestation and forest protection.

Representatives from mountain communities listed many shortcomings in the work, especially poor awareness by residents, lax examination and supervision by authorities, and difficulties in relocating people in danger areas.

People's Committee vice-chairman of Lai Chau Province, Le Trong Quang, said low awareness was a key reason for the high rate of losses. He emphasised the importance of increasing communication work.

Vice-chairman of Ha Giang's People's Committee, Nguyen Minh Tien, pointed to the need to build flood warning and observation systems.

He also proposed relocating people living in areas prone to flood and landslides and encouraging people to plant and protect forests to help mitigate impacts of natural disasters.

Provinces that have been regularly hit by flash floods and landslides include Lao Cai, Ha Giang, Lai Chau, Son La, Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Yen Bai in the north, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Nam, Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak and Binh Thuan in the central region.

HCM City seizes drug cutting agent

HCM City Police identified a powder seized by the city's customs authorities as a drug cutting agent yesterday.

HCM City Customs discovered a 5.2kg package that was being transported from the southern province of Dong Nai to Sydney on Tuesday.

The package included palm sugar, coconut candy and dried fish.

Quick tests showed the palm sugar contained heroin, so four samples of the sugar were sent for further tests.

Since the start of the year, the city's customs officials have seized more than 70kg of heroin hidden in food such as coffee, tea and canned meat.

Smartphone bust made in Ha Noi

Ha Noi Police in co-ordination with the municipal Market Watch stopped a coach yesterday morning carrying 60 smart phones without any clear origin in Hoang Mai District worth about VND150 million (US$7,100).

The coach driver admitted that he was hired to transport the goods from the northern province of Lang Son to southern areas for sale.

The owner of the goods was also travelling on the coach, and said he had bought the phones in Lang Son Province to re-sell for a profit.

Foot tunnels ignored as rubbish starts to build up

Ha Noi has spent large sums of money on building pedestrian tunnels under busy roads, but many of them are now abandoned or misused, Ministry of Transport inspectors have said.

Some tunnels have become dumping sites or homes for the homeless, causing big waste problems, environmental pollution and social disorder.

Figures from the Ministry of Transport show that 17 pedestrian tunnels have opened at traffic hot spots since 2001. And despite the misuse of many, the ministry is opening more.

Four are under construction along the Dien Bridge-Nhon route part of National highway.

In the same area, another four are used as illegal shops while people are still forced to cross the busy road.

A reporter from online newspaper said many pedestrian tunnels were misused.

One on Mai Dich-Phap Van route is locked to the public. Garbage and building materials have been dumped in front of the tunnel entrance.

Another tunnel in Khuat Duy Tien Road has become a public toilet and the floor is submerged with water.

Tran Van Truong, deputy chief inspector of the ministry said that of 17 tunnels, only three were regularly used.

Truong said many residents ignored the tunnels to jaywalk across the roads. This was because many had not been designed properly or were not in convenient positions.

Most of the tunnels were equipped with only one ventilator and lacked lights. Signs announcing their presence were also not very noticeable.

Some tunnels in operation were not cleaned regularly and the footwalks were broken, Truong added.

According to the Ha Noi Traffic Work JSC, which is in charge of managing tunnels in the city, the cost of each tunnel ranged between VND3-7 billion (US$141,500-330,000).

To solve the problem, ministry inspectors have sent a report to the ministry calling for the municipal transport department to complete the construction of four tunnels around Dien Bridge-Nhon Intersection.

The department will also be asked to examine the responsibilities of those who invested in or built the tunnels.

Signs with lamps may be installed in front of tunnels, the inspectors said.

Da Nang forum aims to save primates

Trainees from Nepal, Benin, Madagascar, Indonesia and China are taking part in a nine-day training course on natural conservation and community education skills in Da Nang.

The course, which is being organised by the Centre of Biodiversity Conservation, GreenViet and the San Diego Zoo Global in the US, aims to provide basic skills in natural conservation and community education on primate protection, while raising initiatives to protect the red-shanked douc langur.

In March, the San Diego Zoo Global and GreenViet also launched a programme to highlight the importance of primate conservation and environmental protection for over 100 junior secondary school and high school students in Son Tra District.

Authorities instructed to monitor medicine imports

The Ministry of Health's Drug Administration of Viet Nam (DAVN) has issued a nationwide request for provinces and cities to tighten their management of drug importers and distribution companies.

In a document released on Tuesday, DAVN asked localities and businesses to inspect drugs imported by companies listed as trading uncertified medicines. The report asked that the goods be checked before they could be placed on the market and called for a strict approach to handling violations.

The statement also suggested provinces and cities target oversight of quality management procedures, particularly in expediting announcements on the withdrawal of uncertified medicine.

Drug import and trading companies have been asked to assess drug suppliers and manufacturers to ensure the quality of drugs on the market. Companies were also asked to comply with regulations on the withdrawal of unqualified medicine.

The decision was put forward after drug inspection results showed multiple quality and management violations, particularly in relation to unqualified drugs and their withdrawal from the market.

Last Friday, DAVN revoked the licences of a number of foreign drugs, mainly from Indian manufacturers, including Umedica Laboratories, Marksans Pharma, Yeva Therapeutics, Cure Medicines and Medley Pharmaceuticals due to quality issues.

The DAVN also denied rumours relating to Colgate toothpaste products containing triclosan, a substance that could cause cancer, as reported by the United States' Food and Drug Administration.

The DAVN said that the matter was the subject of debate and that no final conclusion had been reached.

To date, Viet Nam's health sector is yet to receive any documents warning about the use of Triclosan in products. Some of Colgate-Pamolive Viet Nam's toothpaste products were reported to contain a 0.3 per cent concentration of Triclosan, well within the legal limit, it said.

The health sector also requested the collection of cosmetic samples to inspect banned substances, including Triclosan.

Poor pavements put pedestrians at risk

Ha Noi's pavements should be under the control of one agency, an official from the city's Department of Transport said yesterday.

Vu Van Vien, head of the department, blamed overlapping management for low quality repair work and inconsistent standards that destroyed pavements and made them dangerous for pedestrians.

Since 2006, people's committees of districts and townships had been given the job of maintaining pavements in all streets under their control.

However, the task had been assigned to sub-units in wards or the managing board of projects.

The report said that when pavements began to disintegrate, no unit was prepared to take responsibility.

In some areas, those in charge of managing them did not inspect or supervise work, leading to advanced problems.

To address the problem, the department suggested the People's Committee of Ha Noi name the responsibilities of each units concerned.

"Maintenance tasks needs to be done regularly and assigned to one agency only. That agency should choose a capable contractor to do maintenance work and should be responsible for pavements under its control," Vien said.

Nguyen Quoc Hung, Vice Chairman of the Ha Noi's People's Committee, said the committee agreed with the suggestions by the Department of Transport.

He said it had assigned relevant departments and agencies to improve legal documents on investing, managing and maintaining pavements in the city.

Vien from the transport department said irresponsible drivers were another cause for the quick degradation of pavements in the city.

"Pavements are designed for walking only, but when there are traffic jams or flooding, people often drive on the pavement," he said.

"In some areas, car and motorbike also leads to degradation," he added.

He said lack of co-ordination between different sectors was also a main cause.

"The power and water supply agencies also fail to co-ordinate their work. They ask for permission to dig up pavements to install power lines and water pipes at different times, causing the pavements to be dug up over and over again. This is not only a big waste, but also leads to degradation," Vien said.

The Department of Transport is in charge of managing 13 per cent of the pavements in the city, while people's committee of districts and townships are in charge of the other 87 per cent.

Ten rare langurs found dead

Rangers at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh Province seized at least 10 dead rare langurs on August 18, which had been dried in preparation for glue production.

The animals were seized along with a stockpile of ammunition. The poachers, however, were not caught.

According to the management board of the park, those responsible are a group of five poachers working out of Xuan Trach Commune, Bo Trach District. They often use AK 47s to illegally hunt in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

This is the biggest known group of langur poachers in the park. Since this particular species regularly gathers in the park, they are easy targets for poachers.

There are superstitions about the magic effects of glue made from langur bones, making poaching quite attractive to those who would break the law, as 100 grammes of glue made from langur bone fetches nearly VND2 million (USD95.2) on the black market.

Triclosan content in Colgate toothpaste at safe level

The level of Triclosan content in Colgate Total toothpaste is permissible in Vietnam and safe for users, the Ministry of Health has said after the chemical was found to cause cancer and premature birth and has been opposed by consumer protection organizations in other countries.

In a document sent to the Daily, the ministry’s Drug Administration of Vietnam said Triclosan is allowed for use at content of under 0.3% in cosmetic products as a preservative, and can also be used for preventing bacterial contamination in accordance with the agreement on cosmetics among ASEAN countries.

The regulation is not only applied in ASEAN countries but in the European Union and by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well, it said.

On the other hand, Colgate-Palmolive Vietnam announced a Triclosan concentration of 0.3% in some of its toothpaste products and up to date, health agencies of Vietnam and other regional countries have not received any safety warnings regarding the use of the chemical in cosmetic products.

Apart from cosmetics and toothpaste, the substance is included in different products such as foodstuff, hand cleanser, and shower cream, according to the drug department.

“In the coming time, the department will continue testing samples of cosmetics containing Triclosan and send the test results to provincial departments of health and drug administration agencies,” it said.

On August 12, Bloomberg cited a 35-page research report about impact of Triclosan found in Colgate Total toothpaste produced by Colgate-Pamolive. The investigation showed that the chemical is linked with cancer-cell growth and premature birth, and disrupts bone development in animals.

Meanwhile, Colgate-Pamolive said the research cannot prove that Triclosan is harmful to humans and stressed that the safety of Triclosan content in its product has been confirmed by more than 80 health studies on more than 19,000 people.

Thomas DiPiazza, spokesperson of Colgate, said during the last 18 years on the U.S. market, Colgate toothpaste has not showed any signs of doing harm for users.

DiPiazza also said that the company does not have any plan to change its toothpaste composition or remove Triclosan from Colgate Total toothpaste.

While Colgate Pamolive insists on keeping Triclosan in its products, its competitor Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) and other renowned cosmetics brands such as Avon and Johnson & Johnson have announced to remove the chemical from their products.

Multiple functional foods suspended

Inspectors at the Department of Food Safety under the Ministry of Health have decided to withdraw four certificates and suspend four functional food products available on the market.

According to the decision, a bird’s nest product of De Nhat Yen Company Limited was completely banned from August 15 because this company was not operating at the registered address in Binh Duong Province.

In addition, food safety certificates for three weight-loss products namely Ever Slim, Easy Slimming and Express Slimming of Thien Ha Xanh Limited Company in Go Vap District were withdrawn as the company is no longer existent at the address shown on the records.

Last week, the head of the food safety department imposed administrative sanctions on Innopha Cosmeceuticals Limited Company for wrong advertising contents for two products, Mai Hada and Collagen, compared to registered contents, as well as violation on labeling of Collagen and Collagen De Happy. The authority imposed fines of VND25.8 million, forcing Innopha to stop its infringement and correct the advertising contents.

40 people died from rabies since 2014

Since early 2014, 40 people died due to rabies. This news was released at a meeting on August 18 in Hanoi between the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.

Most of deaths due to rabies are people in the North. The Central province of Nghe An has five cases, next are the northern provinces of Hoa Binh, Yen Bai, Thanh Hoa, Lai Chau and Hanoi. Thanh Hoa, Thai Binh and Hung Yen in the North have not had any case of rabies for years but they recorded cases recently.

Dang Quang Tan, deputy head of the Preventive Medicine Department, said that low vaccination proportion of dogs, cats is the cause of increasing number of deaths due to rabies.

Dogs and cats are the source of the vast majority of human rabies deaths. Just 20 percent of dogs and cats are vaccinated nationwide. Along with this, the increase is blamed for residents' lack of awareness for preventing rabies.

Though medical workers encouraged local residents to give vaccine injections to their dogs and cats as the most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies in people is by eliminating rabies in dogs through vaccination, but people are still subjective.

When people are bitten, people did not go to medical stations to receive vaccination. Moreover, 3 percent of them are sent to medical clinics but it is too late to treat. 6 percent of them are treated with herbal and 3 left percent have no money for vaccination.

Most of dead people owing to rabies are living in rural where residents often let their dogs wander and bite indiscriminately. Rabies disease is not included in the national target index so it has no expenditure for media to raise people’s awareness of the disease and training vets for rabies prevention mission.

Medical experts confirmed rabies can be absolutely prevented through media and improved vaccination rate for dogs and cats. In addition, vaccination after bitten is the only way to save people from death.

Around the world, one person dies from rabies every minute. In Vietnam, since 2008, report says an estimated 600 people died of rabies or average of 90 deaths every year.

Experts discuss upward trend in dementia

Viet Nam, ranking seventh among the 10 fastest ageing countries, is facing an upward trend of chronic diseases, including dementia.

Director of the Central Geriatrics Hospital Pham Thang made the statement at a symposium on the diagnosis and treatment of dementia in Ha Noi last Thursday.

"Dementia is a disaster for the health of elderly people, their families and the community. The disease seriously affects their quality of life," he said.

Research conducted by the Central Geriatrics Hospital in 2008 showed that nearly five per cent of the country's elderly population was suffering from dementia. The rate has nearly doubled in five years.

Vietnamese and foreign experts cited 2012 statistics from the World Health Organisation, saying that there were 35.6 million people living with dementia around the world, and up to 50 – 70 per cent of them were suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

The number of dementia cases is predicted to hit 65.7 million by 2030 with 58 per cent living in low and middle-income countries. The figures are then expected to reach 115.4 million and 70 per cent, respectively by 2050.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. There is currently no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death.

The life quality of those with Alzheimer's is relatively low and proportional to the state of the disease.

At the symposium, experts assessed the recovery of cases being subjected to different therapies and suggested the use of non-medicine methods.

They also stressed the need to monitor patient quality of life and consider this as an important criterion when assessing treatment outcomes.

Thang said that Alzheimer's patients should be doing physical exercises, such as walking and muscle practices, at least twice per week for an hour each time to slow down the disease. Patients should also engage in other activities such as colouring pictures and puzzles for mental stimulation.

"Non-medicine methods are simple, easy to implement and do not have after-effects so we can apply them regularly," he said.

More students to receive scholarship

The Rencontre du Viet Nam (Meeting Viet Nam) and Vallet Scholarship Fund set aside VND20 billion (US$952,000) to award to 2,250 outstanding Vietnamese students this year.

High school students will receive scholarships worth VND8 million ($380) each while students at universities and colleges and young researchers will receive VND13 million ($619) each.

Since its establishment in 2001, the fund has awarded over VND120 billion ($5.7 million) to nearly 25,000 students. The fund was established by the French Professor Odon Vallet, from France's Sorbonne University, through the Meeting Viet Nam organisation founded by the Vietnamese-French Professor Tran Thanh Van.

Workshop discusses bio-tech application in agro-production

The role of biotechnology in reducing exhaust emissions and adapting to climate change was the main focus of a workshop held in Ho Chi Minh City on August 19.

Co-organised by the US Embassy in Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh City Biotechnology Centre, the event saw a crowd of Vietnamese and foreign experts and scientists operating in the field.

Participants focused their analysis on great potential of genetically modified crops, especially maize, and their role in trimming greenhouse gases and increasing economic efficiency in Vietnam.

US Consul General to Ho Chi Minh City Rena Bitter said that biotechnology not only helps increase agricultural productivity but also limit greenhouse gases from agricultural production activities and make countries adaptive to climate change.

According to Dr. Leonardo Gonzales from the Philippines, through cultivating genetically modified maize, many farmers get a higher income and use less labour than growing normal maize varieties.

He proposed that regional nations, including Vietnam, should increase investment in biotechnology research and application in agricultural production so as to create strategic genetically modified products by themselves.

Duong Hoa Xo from the Ho Chi Minh City Biotechnology Centre said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development issued a decision allowing the four genetically modified maize varieties of Bt 11, MIR 162, MON 89034 and NK 603 to be used as food for human and animals in Vietnam.

This is considered a stride made by Vietnam in accessing the world’s genetically modified crop varieties, he noted.

At the workshop, attendees also deliberated about plans to switch from rice cultivation to the growing of maize and other crops in the Mekong Delta region, challenges for the cattle-breeding sector and measures to promote biotechnology application in the future.-

Wild animal imports under scrutiny to prevent Ebola outbreak

The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has requested Vietnamese forest rangers’ agencies undertake drastic measures to prevent wild animals from spreading infectious diseases including Ebola.  

CITES Vietnam Director under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) Do Quang Tung said that the body asked provincial forestry rangers’ departments to send officials to supervise the import and export of wild animals in localities. All instances of illegal import of wild animals should be punished in accordance with current regulations.

CITES Vietnam also requested farms which raise wild animals to regularly disinfect breeding facilities and supervise epidemics, if any. They should pay particular attention to fumigating areas which have wild animals imported from Africa.

Localities were required to actively co-ordinate with veterinary agencies and local medical centres to supervise any epidemics at these farms and immediately cull dead wild animals.

Moreover, localities were urged to instruct farmers to isolate sick animals which show symptoms of infection and timely inform relevant agencies.

CITES Vietnam also recommended that breeding farms strengthen control and punish illegal transport, trafficking and slaughter of wild animals, and introduce safe measures for those who contact wild animals and related products.

HCMC calls for more preferential policies for preschool education

The National Assembly's Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children Affairs August 18 had a meeting with People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City over policies for kindergarten education.

11 wards of HCMC have still not set up public preschools while policies for private nursery facilities are restricted. In addition, preschools in industrial parks and export processing zones fail to meet the increasing demand.

Tran Thi Kim Thanh, deputy head of the city’s Department of Education and Training, said that for the academic school year 2014-2015 the city has total 912 public and private preschool, an increase of 85 schools compared to last year.

However, around 91 schools meet the national standards as there have been difficulties in facilities. Furthermore, the city suffers great increase in population, 14 preschool construction projects which approved since 2008 with total loan of  VND399 billion (US$ 18.7 million), can not satisfy the demand

Hua Ngoc Thuan, deputy chairman of the city People's Committee, said that five recent years, the city’s population increased by one million; accordingly, it is a real problem to ensure all seats in a class for all children. The city authority spends more than VND5 trillion (US$ 235.6 million) for building more rooms yet it just seems not able to solve classroom's pressure.

Building preschool facilities is top priority of the city so far. Public or private facilities are given loan of 70 percent investment from the stimulus package. Net loan capital must be paid within 5-7 years without interest. Recently, People’s Committee’s new decree instructed that large-scale construction projects can be extended the time for paying from 10 to 15 years.

Projects under the social contribution form will be entitled for land use exemption. Investors of preschools in industrial parks and export processing zones are allowed to use a part of land reserved for planting trees to facilitate the project’s procedure.

However, the government should change investment mechanism for education field to fuel investor, said Mr. Thuan. The government should not consider education investors as commercial companies to force them to pay income tax and enterprise value tax. Instead, the government should issue more preferential policies to promote education facility construction projects

The city has petitioned many times to the Ministry of Education and training on adjustment for education investors. Trinh Ngoc Thach, vice chairman of the National Assembly's Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children Affairs highly lauded changes in policies which HCMC is applying for preschool education. Mr. Thach said other provinces should learn this model while waiting for renovation.

Deputy PM calls for tougher stance on smuggling

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on August 20 urged the Ministry of Defense to take stern measures to combat illicit smuggling, trade fraud and counterfeit goods.

The Ministry of Defense reported in the first seven months of the year, drug-related crime, and trade fraud in border areas remained complicated, especially illegal trafficking of coal, ores, oil and gas, tobacco, foreign currencies, consumer goods, and precious metals.

To best cope with the situation, the Ministry of Defense directed border and coast guards to strictly co-ordinate with all relevant agencies and authorities of neighbouring countries to intensify a crackdown on these crimes.

Over the past time, military forces have uncovered 854 cases with over 1,140 drug smugglers, seizing 754 cakes of heroin, nearly 29 kg of synthetic drug.

Addressing at working session in Hanoi on August 20, Deputy PM Phuc lauded the Ministry of Defense’s achievements in discovering and dealing with trade fraud and smuggling cases.

Combating these crimes is an important task of the entire Party, nation, and army, as well as the whole political system, he said, adding that Party Committees, local authorities and relevant agencies should play a pivotal role in the fight.

Phuc asked the Ministry of Defence and relevant agencies to increase inspections along the border and at sea to timely and effectively tackle smuggling and trade fraud.

He reminded the designated agencies to enhance communications to raise awareness of the negative ramifications of these illegal activities among border people.  

VAVA seeks cooperation to improve care for AO victims

The Health Ministry and the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange (AO)/dioxin (VAVA) discussed measures to strengthen their cooperation in providing care for AO victims at a meeting in Hanoi on August 20.

VAVA President Nguyen Van Rinh asked the health ministry to continue advising the government in improving support policies target AO victims and their children.

At the same time, he urged the ministry issue treatment guidance for toxic chemical-related diseases and regulations on verification of AO-related diseases.

The VAVA head also suggested that the health ministry give detailed guidance for the import of health food that can be used in detoxification treatment for AO victims, to assist with the operation of detox centres nationwide.

Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien pledged that her ministry will continue to work closely with the VAVA in providing health care to AO victims, adding that the ministry will coordinate with relevant agencies to streamline procedures for the victims in getting support and assistance.

From 1961-1971, US troops sprayed more than 80 million litres of herbicides - 44 million litres of which were AO that contained nearly 370kg of dioxin - over southern Vietnam.

As a result, around 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to the toxic chemical. Many of the victims have died, while millions of their descendants are living with deformities and diseases due to the chemical’s effects.

Vietnam has adopted a number of policies specifically designed for Agent Orange (AO)/Dioxin victims, supporting them with vocational training and medical treatment.

However, supporting policies for the victims should be updated and improved regularly as only 300,000 out of the three million people affected by the toxic chemical benefit from the incentives.

Established in January 2014, VAVA now has chapters in 59 cities and provinces with over 315,000 members. It has raised more than VND800 billion (US$37.8 million) in and outside of the country to repair and build houses, grant scholarships, and offer relief for AO victims and their families.