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Higher rate of blindness in ‘purple onion kingdom’ of Vietnam

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 18:04 GMT+7
Higher rate of blindness in ‘purple onion kingdom’ of Vietnam
Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long checks the eyes of a farmer in Vinh Chau Commune on October 20, 2015. She is completely blind.

Poor workplace hygiene has been pointed to as a leading factor in causing the higher rate of blindness and cornea inflammation among farmers in Vinh Chau Town of Soc Trang Province in the Mekong Delta, which specializes in growing purple onions.

The ‘purple onion kingdom’ actually covers both Vinh Hai Commune and Ward 2 of Vinh Chau.

The rate of cornea inflammation among farmers in Vinh Chau is 12 times that in developed nations, according to the Ministry of Health, which has recently stepped in to research the case.

Vinh Chau now has 1,248 blind people, with 23 percent of them sightless in both eyes and the remaining 77 percent in one eye.

This means that the two locations have 11 blind people out of every 1,000 while the average rate throughout Vietnam is 5 in 1,000.

A check led by the deputy health minister, Doctor Nguyen Thanh Long, yesterday concluded that the blindness does not result from transmittable symptoms.

The ministry said that it is mainly caused by poor safety and sub-standard hygiene in workplaces.

Many farmers have reported that they had their eyes irritated by the essential oil of onions while cutting them.

Rubbing eyes for a long time causes damage to the cornea and can ultimately lead to blindness, Dr. Long said.

Farmers have also suffered the symptoms while preparing farming land for seeding and collecting purple onions.

Naturally occurring fungi from onions have also worsened the situation.

Vinh Chau is nicknamed the ‘kingdom of purple onions’ in Vietnam thanks to its great reputation for cultivating the produce.

The district has 6,200 hectares of land dedicated to growing onions, producing up to 100,000 metric tons per year.

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