[sixties-l] Fwd: After Three Decades, Agent Orange Still Harms Children

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 10/09/00

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    >Date: Sun, 8 Oct 2000
    >From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
    >Subject: VIETNAM: After Three Decades, Agent Orange Still Harms Children
    >                       *** 06-Oct-0* ***
    >Title: VIETNAM: After Three Decades, Agent Orange Still Harms Children
    >By Tran Dinh Thanh Lam
    >BEN CAU, Vietnam, Oct 6 (IPS) - ''I don't want my son to become a
    >public attraction,'' Doan Ngoc Thanh says angrily, waving his
    >hands to stop a photographer from taking a picture of his 10-year-
    >old son.
    >The boy has an abnormally big head for his slender body, which
    >lies in bed most of the time.
    >Living in a small, remote village here in Ben Cau district, Tay
    >Ninh province in south-west Vietnam, he is one of the many victims
    >of the destructive legacy of the herbicide Agent Orange, sprayed
    >by U.S. planes during the Vietnam War.
    >Tay Ninh shares a 240-km border with Cambodia, where fierce
    >battles took place during the war and tens of thousands of tonnes
    >of chemicals were dropped to destroy vegetation in the jungles to
    >flush out communist fighters.
    >Doan Ngoc Thanh and his wife Nguyen Thi Lanh were both former
    >guerrillas at Ben Cau. Lanh's blood was found to have high dioxin
    >levels, while Thanh's skin is pockmarked with scabs and scars. He
    >too has high levels of dioxin.
    >But it is their son Thang (which means victory in Vietnamese),
    >who was born on the 15th anniversary of North Vietnam's victory
    >over U.S.-backed South Vietnam, who bears the most severe impact
    >of Agent Orange.
    >The dioxin, known to cause birth defects like malformed limbs
    >and mental retardation, is said to affect a million victims in
    >Vietnam today.
    >Vietnamese officials also blame the chemical for causing
    >cancer, immune-deficiency diseases and drug-resistant malaria.
    >Like many parents of children affected by Agent Orange, Thanh
    >is tired of official delegations coming to ''investigate'' their
    >conditions. ''They come and ask lots of question, take lots of
    >photos, make lots of promises,'' he says.
    >In the last 10 years, Thanh's family has met more than a dozen
    >''very important delegations'', including some foreigners.
    >''They gave us nothing but promises,'' a disappointed Thanh
    >complains. ''I'd rather work on my plot of land to earn something
    >than play host to all these guests who come only for political
    >The Vietnam War ended 25 years ago, but still claims victims
    >today through genetic mutations in the children of soldiers on
    >both sides of the conflict who were exposed to Agent Orange.
    >Official figures say some 72 million litres of chemicals were
    >dispersed over Vietnamese soil between 1961 and 1975. More than 40
    >million litres of these were deadly dioxins.
    >As a result, more than 50,000 children have been born with
    >serious deformities. A two-year examination of 41,153 children
    >under the age of 15 at Ben Cau district alone found 242 cases of
    >birth deformities.
    >The Vietnamese government, which has never officially asked for
    >war reparations, in late 1998 began to sound out Washington about
    >''cooperation to overcome the effects of the war''.
    >Meanwhile, Vietnam's Red Cross has set up a fund for Agent
    >Orange victims and put up ''peace villages'' for them. Some Agent
    >Orange-affected children get treatment and rehabilitation there,
    >but those in isolated and rural areas, like Thang, have yet to
    >receive help.
    >At Cam Lo district, in central Quang Tri province, war veteran
    >Tran Kien, whose two children live with the effects of Agent
    >Orange, is also tired of waiting. He does not want to hear of
    >delegations and the press any more.
    >Quang Tri lies just 30 km north of the ''McNamara Line'' and 60
    >km to the west of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the most heavily bombed
    >area in the war.
    >The McNamara Line, named after the former U.S. defence
    >minister, refers to a border line that the American armed forces
    >set up at the 17th parallel separating North and South Vietnam.
    >The line was armed with electronic devices controlling the
    >infiltration of communist soldiers to the South.
    >Today, more than 15,000 victims of Agent Orange live in this
    >province that separated north and south during the war.
    >A survey concluded in July showed that 2,000 people from Quang
    >Tri have died from causes related to the chemical defoliant, and
    >5,240 children whose parents were exposed in some way to the
    >chemical have been born with deformities.
    >''This makes us something of a showcase of the notorious 'chat
    >doc mau da cam' (toxic product with orange colour) victims,''
    >veteran Kien says, sarcastically.
    >Kien's family needs help for his children, but is too proud to
    >ask for public assistance.
    >It was only when Dr. Nguyen Thien Nhan, an expert in
    >neurosurgery at the Hue Medical School, told him the purpose of
    >his visit -- to grant the family a small loan and to offer a
    >wheelchair to his daughter -- that Kien agreed to let the doctor
    >and his companions meet his children.
    >Kien's daughter, Tran Minh Nguyet, sits immobile, her stunted
    >legs hidden by a long shirt. Her young brother is lost in his own
    >world, oblivious of what is going on around him.
    >Dr. Nhan, who has performed surgery on many children affected
    >by Agent Orange, says he would try to do something for the boy.
    >With funds from foreign donations, his Department of Genetics
    >and Handicapped Children at the Hue Medical School offers loans of
    >one million dong (around 70 dollars) to families of handicapped
    >The no-interest loans are returned after three months, and
    >handed to other needy families.
    >Minh Nguyet's face turned radiant as she sat on the wheelchair
    >brought by Dr. Nhan, one that had been donated by the Dutch.
    >''Now I can help my father,'' she says. Like other children
    >with disabilities, she wants desperately to be useful because she
    >sees her parents toil day after day to earn a living.
    >''I wish my daughter could lead a normal life,'' muses Le Thi
    >Hoa, who also lives at Cam Lo. Her daughter Truong Thi Kieu Loan
    >looks like a child despite her 20 years. Her deformed limbs and
    >stunted growth set her apart from people her own age.
    >Hoa suffered several miscarriages and then had breast cancer.
    >Her first child died after a series of epileptic seizures, and her
    >second had the effects of Agent Orange.
    >Three decades after the war, her blood dioxin levels are still
    >10 times the average. ''I felt guilty before my daughter. If only
    >she could lead a normal life,'' Hoa says.
    >At a ''peace village'' in Hue, there are now around 300 Agent
    >Orange-affected children from different parts of the country.
    >Here, children accompanied by a family member go through a
    >three-month course that teaches them to adapt to the world
    >despite their difficulties. The family member will continue the
    >rehabilitation process when the child goes home.
    >''I will write a letter to my father,'' 12-year-old Nguyen Thi
    >Be says. She has crippled hands, but social workers at the village
    >have taught her how to write with her foot.
    >The effects of Agent Orange have been around for some time, but
    >only recently did the press and the government begin a real
    >campaign to support victims of the chemical.
    >On Feb. 23, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai decided that victims
    >of Agent Orange and their children would receive monthly social
    >welfare payments equivalent to 3.40 to 6 U.S. dollars.
    >In his visit to the capital Hanoi in August, the first by a
    >U.S. defence secretary since the war's end, Secretary William
    >Cohen offered help for Agent Orange victims. The U.S.
    >Environmental Protection Agency has affirmed that Agent Orange is
    >a known carcinogen.

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