Monday, October 27, 2008

Vietnam villagers wonder why their children have high incidence of disability

From Thanh Nien Daily in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam:

Parents in Ho Do Commune say their children are born normal, but soon show signs of developmental disabilities.

Thirty-eight of the small commune’s children are said to be mentally challenged or physically disabled. Some can’t memorize the alphabet, others exhibit behavioral problems, according to local residents.

“I can’t understand. My two grandsons are growing in physical size but not in intelligence,” said Thi, an elderly woman in the commune of 6,000.

“The boys, 13 and 11 years old, know nothing and can’t spell a single word, even though they’re supposed to be in 6th grade.”

The woman said her two younger daughters are growing normally. “I hope God will not maltreat the little girls,” Thi said.

Ho Do is in the central province of Ha Tinh, an area sprayed heavily with Agent Orange, a dioxin-heavy defoliant used by the US military during the Vietnam War.

Nearby Thi’s house is the small house of Nguyen Thi Luong, whose two sons suffer from similar conditions (pictured).

She had the boys with two different husbands but they shared the same fate, she said.

“My son rushes to class with his schoolbag everyday but he can only sit still for a few minutes, then he leaves,” Luong said of her older boy.

“He catches crabs and snakes and releases them in class to scare his classmates.

“Now I’m healthy and can work and take care of them. I don’t know what will happen when I pass away and they are left alone.”

Besides mental defects, some children have disfigured hands and legs. Others are have large heads and crooked limbs. Many can’t walk. Such symptoms are often linked to dioxin-poisoning.

So far, only one of the 38 mentally-challenged and disabled children has been officially acknowledged as a victim of Agent Orange.

Nguyen Thi Xuan Hoa, vice administrator of the commune’s primary school, said she was worried about the abnormal situation.

“This commune has 38 disabled children but only 14 of them can go to school. They go only for fun and to socialize,” she said.

She added that the mentally-challenged children cannot study alongside their peers who are quicker to learn. But she said the commune had no money to build a special school.