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Health ministry holds urgent meeting on diphtheria outbreaks in Vietnam's Central Highlands

Wednesday, July 08, 2020, 17:35 GMT+7
Health ministry holds urgent meeting on diphtheria outbreaks in Vietnam's Central Highlands
A medical worker samples a boy for diphtheria testing in Dak Nong Province, Vietnam. Photo: Tam An / Tuoi Tre

Vietnam’s Ministry of Health convened an urgent meeting on Tuesday after one new locality in the Central Highlands region had reported a case of diphtheria, raising the national tally to 63 patients.

The new diphtheria case was recorded in Dak Lak Province, the fourth locality in the Central Highlands and the fifth in Vietnam to have documented patients of the disease since June, after Dak Nong, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, and Ho Chi Minh City.

The total number of 63 diphtheria patients nationwide is already three times the annual average, according to the health ministry.

The disease has killed a four-year-old boy in Gia Lai and a 13-year-old boy and nine-year-old girl in Dak Nong.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Dang Quang Tan, head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine, reported that nearly half of the patients were asymptomatic, and the majority of the infected people are above seven years old and have not been adequately vaccinated against the disease.

The health ministry considers diphtheria to be a dangerous disease that can cause complications including myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle — and death.

Nguyen Thanh Long, acting Minister of Health who was appointed to the post on the same day, at the meeting requested the whole health sector to focus on preventing diphtheria and immediately launch a vaccination program for all children from two months old.

In the immediate future, the program will be carried out in the Central Highlands provinces and the central provinces of Quang Nam and Quang Ngai — two localities bordering the highland region with a high risk of diphtheria infection.

On Wednesday morning, the Medical Examination and Treatment Management Department under the health ministry requested the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, the Ho Chi Minh City Hospital for Tropical Diseases and the Children’s Hospital 2 in Ho Chi Minh City to urgently set up task forces to provide technical assistance to the Central Highlands provinces and retrain local health workers on diphtheria diagnosis and treatment.

The three aforementioned hospitals and health facilities in the Central Highlands region shall establish a procedure for receiving, screening, treating, and transferring diphtheria patients as well as preparing medicine and isolation rooms for treatment of the infectious disease.

A hotline and online support platforms must also be established to provide technical assistance to health facilities in this area.

Acting Minister of Health Long will pay a visit to Gia Lai Province on Thursday to inspect the diphtheria prevention measures there.

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