Contaminated water has risen to the top of the suspect list behind the deaths of eight patients whose condition became critical after receiving dialysis at a hospital in northern Vietnam last week.
The victims were among 18 patients who became seriously ill after undergoing dialysis at Hoa Binh General Hospital in northern Hoa Binh Province on the morning of May 29.
Dialysis is the process of artificially removing waste and excess water from blood in people who have lost their kidney function.
Hoa Binh’s Department of Health held a press briefing on Thursday to announce their early findings on the fatal complications, directing their suspicion towards the reverse osmosis (RO) water system, the only shared aspect of each patient’s dialysis.
“After a comprehensive review process, the province’s council of experts has determined that all 18 patients suffered from acute poisoning due to the same contaminant entering their bloodstreams, with symptoms of multi-organ dysfunction,” the Department announced.
After nearly ten days of treatment at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, Pham Ngoc Trung, 56, was still pale and having difficulty breathing and finishing sentences.
Trung was among the survivors of the medical complication in Hoa Binh before he was transferred to Bach Mai Hospital for intensive care.
“I started feeling nauseated, had difficulty breathing, and digestive issues just over 30 minutes into dialysis,” Trung recalled of the haunting experience he and 17 other patients had gone through.
According to Duong Duc Hung, all ten surviving patients were transferred to Bach Mai Hospital from Hoa Binh and are now in stable enough condition to be discharged.
The patients will continue with their regular dialysis in Hanoi until the renal replacement therapy unit at Hoa Binh General Hospital can resume operations which have been indefinitely suspended pending an investigation, Hung said.
Is RO water to blame?
According to the council of experts put together by Hoa Binh’s Department of Health to investigate the incident, contamination of the RO water is the primary suspect.
Tran Quang Khanh, director of the provincial Department of Health, said there must have been a serious human error involved in the medical complication.
The RO water purification system at Hoa Binh General Hospital underwent regular maintenance only one day prior to the incident, and the 18 patients affected by acute blood poisoning were the first to receive dialysis after said maintenance.
Established medical protocols dictate that the purified water must be tested after each maintenance before use on patients, though that doesn’t seem to have been the case, said Khanh.
According to Khanh, medical workers at the hospital ran the dialysis machines before receiving the handover minutes from the maintenance company.
Nguyen Gia Binh, head of the intensive care unit at Bach Mai Hospital, said he suspected that chemical residues in the RO machine could have contaminated the water, leading to the complication.
“Maintenance technicians could have been careless enough to have misused the chemicals that disinfect the machine’s tubes,” Binh asserted.
Meanwhile, Truong Quy Duong, director of Hoa Binh General Hospital, along with two other employees, has been suspended for further investigation into the negligence and irresponsibility that led to the incident.