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Archive for December 7th, 2009|Daily archive page

Vietnam yet to receive WHO clarification on Canada swine-flu vaccine deaths

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2009 at 3:54 am

Arepanrix, a swine-flu vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline, has been withdrawn in Canada after two deaths and other adverse reactions in people. Vietnam has asked WHO for information about the problem.

Vietnam has not received clarification from the World Health Organization about two batches of swine-flu vaccines recently withdrawn in Canada on suspicion of poor quality, Dr. Nguyen Huy Nga, chief of the Preventive Health and Environment Department, told the National Steering Board of Human Flu Prevention December 3.

After Arepanrix H1N1 vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline caused two deaths and caused adverse reactions in many other people in Canada and killed four in China, Vietnam sought information from WHO about how many doses had been used in Canada, lot numbers, and the number of people with adverse reactions.

It has imported around 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline through WHO.

Vietnam, worried about getting vaccines from the same batches as Canada, also asked the UN agency to provide another batch of vaccines or use a different supplier.

Related article:
VN asks WHO for H1N1 vaccine direction

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Drug prices surge despite gov’t warning

In Vietnam Health on December 7, 2009 at 3:54 am

In less than two weeks, drug prices have increased by 10-30 percent throughout the country, in spite of warnings to pharmacies from the Vietnam Drug Administration (VDA).

Many pharmaceutical companies, importers and distributors have also hiked prices even though the
VDA, a division of the Ministry of Health, has ordered them not to.

The poor reporting suffering the most from the cost increases.

A customer purchases pharmaceuticals in Ho Chi Minh City. In the last two weeks, the price of several drugs has soared, putting a strain on the poor in particular ( Photo: SGGP)

Ms. H.T Be from the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong said she was shocked by the new cost of five drugs she takes to treat her cervical cancer.

She said a few days ago, a vial of Eprex used to treat anemia cost VND540, 000 (US$29) but the price was now VND567, 000. Ms. Be, who requires six vials per treatment session, said she has to pay a total of VND3.5 million for the medicine.

Another drug for cancer treatment she takes, Avastin, has soared from VND7.7 million a vial to VND8.5 million.

Ms. Be said she simply cannot afford the new costs. She has already sold her house and farm to pay for a year’s worth of treatment. Without the drugs, death is inevitable, she said.

Many others like Ms. Be who suffer from chronic conditions like cancer and heart disease, say they too can do nothing but wait for death as the new prices apply mostly to drugs used to treat these illnesses.

The drug CMP Nucleo Forte, for instance, which is used in the treatment of peripheral nervous system disorders, has jumped from VND205, 000 to VND249, 000. The cost of Doxorubicin and Carbosplatin, used in cancer treatment, is also up 11-15 percent each.

In recent weeks, pharmaceutical wholesale centers Diethelm and Zuellig Pharma in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 10, announced some drugs would increase by five to 15 percent in December. Antibiotic drugs like Klacid Forte, for example, has increased to VND450, 000 from the previous VND403, 000, the distributors said.

In a recent dispatch to local pharmaceutical producers and businesses, the VDA ordered enterprises not to speculate and create a perceived shortage to raise prices. It also forbid businesses from taking advantage of the recent currency rate adjustment to increase prices. But despite the orders, drugs have continued to be marked up.

Importers blame the stronger US dollar and Euro for the domestic cost hikes. But officials say that before raising their prices, import companies and pharmacies need to obtain permission from the government, which most have not done.

A shop assistant at a pharmacy on HCM City’s Hai Ba Trung Street in District 1 said he learned three weeks ago that other pharmacies would increase their drug costs by 5-6 percent. To avoid being caught by authorities, he says he was told by an unnamed source to increase prices a little at a time.  

Some pharmacies said they had to push up drug prices since they no longer received commission or promotional gifts from wholesale manufactures and distributors. In addition, pharmaceutical manufacturers said price hikes were necessary to subsidize overseas trips for doctors and partners at the end of the year.

Ngo Chi Dung, director of the Joint-Stock Pharmaceutical Company ECO chain, said his company would not increase prices. He pointed out the currency rate changes were the main cause of the increased costs imposed by other pharmacies.

Nguyen Viet Hung, deputy head of the Drug Administration of Vietnam (DAV), said his administration and provincial health departments would monitor and impose penalties on pharmacies, distributors and producers who set unreasonable prices. However, a macroscopic strategy is needed, he said, as drug prices often increase following currency rate adjustments.

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Brazilian film festival kicks off in Hanoi

In Vietnam Culture on December 7, 2009 at 3:54 am

A Brazilian film festival titled “Panorama of Brazilian Movies” is running at the National Cinema Center in Hanoi from December 4-10.

A scene in the film Os desafinados

The film fest, organized by the Brazilian Embassy, will present seven feature films including: Romance; Os desafinados (Out of Tune ); O auto da compadecida (The Passion of Christ); Meu nome não é Johnny (My Name is Not Johnny); Noel, o poeta da Vila (Noel-The Samba Poet); Dois filhos de Francisco (Two Sons of Francisco); and the documentary Peoes (Metal Workers) by Eduardo Countinho about the labor strikes of 1979-1980.

Free tickets are available at The National Cinema Center, 87 Lang Ha Street, Hanoi or at the Brazilian Embassy, The Apartment T-72, 12 Thuy Khue Street.

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Hanoi lacquer exhibit offers enigmatic journey

In Vietnam Culture on December 7, 2009 at 3:54 am

A new lacquer installation exhibit sponsored by the US Embassy in Hanoi, opened December 4 in the capital.

The dome of Specula

“Specula,” the latest exhibition by Vietnamese American artist Phi Phi Oanh Nguyen offers visitors the chance to view lacquer in a new light.

Two years in the making, Specula combines Vietnamese lacquer techniques with architecture and mural painting, taking viewers on a mysterious journey of exploration.

A walk through the colossal exhibit reveals a multilayered network of images representing the interior of an imaginary cave.

Specula draws from diverse sources including Hanoi architecture, Islamic designs, prehistoric cave paintings, and installation art. 

The cultural hybrid results in a contemporary installation that ponders age-old universal questions of presence and existence, while revealing much about the artist herself.

Born in 1979 in Houston, Texas, Phi Phi Oanh attended Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris. The US Embassy also sponsored her first exhibition Black Box in Hanoi in 2007.

Specula is running at the Hanoi City Exhibition Hall, 93 Dinh Tien Hoang Street until December 31.

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Taiwan carrier resumes flights to Danang

In Vietnam Travel on December 7, 2009 at 3:53 am

Danang International Airport.

Taiwanese airlines TransAsia has said it would resume direct flights to Da Nang on December 26, four years after they were withdrawn.

It would operate Airbus 321-132 aircraft between Da Nang and Taipei every Wednesday and Saturday.

Far Eastern Air Transport Corp. began direct flights from Kaohsiung to Da Nang four years ago but soon called it off due to low demand.

But now the number of Taiwanese investors and tourists to central provinces is rising as is demand to travel to Taiwan in that region.

There will also be direct flights from Osaka and Hong Kong to Da Nang City this month.

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Hong River drops to lowest level in centuries

In Vietnam Environment on December 7, 2009 at 3:53 am

The water level of the Hong (Red) River has dropped alarmingly, seriously affecting agricultural production and waterway traffic in Hanoi and northern provinces, said Dang Ngoc Tinh, head of the Northern Hydrographic Department.

The sharp recession of the Hong (Red) River has exposed the foundation of the Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi. (Photo: SGGP)

Normally, the Hong River and other rivers in the north see a drop in volume in February or March each year, but this year has seen it recede sooner and more dramatically.

In particular, the area between the Long Bien and Thanh Tri bridges in Hanoi has seen much lower levels than normal.

On average, upstream levels of the river in November were 0.73 meters lower than the annual average, said Luu Minh Hai, deputy head of the Lao Cai Hydrometeorology Forecasting Center.

The water level measured on November 3 in the Long Bien section was 0.76 meters high, lower than the 0.80 meters in 2008.

It is the lowest level recorded in the past 200 years.

Several sightseeing boats in the capital have had to suspend operations, as many sections of the river are now too shallow to travel through.

Nguyen Thi Lan Chau, deputy head of the National Center for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting, said the current dry season could mean that water levels stay low for the next few months.

The north has seen little rain for many weeks, contributing to the problem, said Mr. Tinh.

In November, water circulation in the Hong River decreased by 57 percent and this month may see a decrease of more than 60 percent, he said.

Mr. Tinh warned that the lack of water for farming activities would get worse in the coming dry months, especially in February and March 2010.

To address the issue, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development recently organized two meetings to discuss solutions to the dilemma.

The ministry asked affected provinces to reserve water and take measures to minimize damage caused by the drought.

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Bolivia’s Morales wins new presidential term

In World on December 7, 2009 at 3:52 am

Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales won a landslide reelection victory in voting that also handed him unfettered control of Congress, according to exit polls.

The results mean that Morales, a fiercely anti-US leader in the mold of his close ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, will have a free hand to deepen leftist reforms for the duration of his new five-year term.

Two survey firms, Ipsos and Mori, said Morales garnered 62-63 percent of the vote, well ahead of his closest rival, former governor Manfred Reyes Villa, who picked up only 23-25 percent.

The ruling Movement Towards Socialism party also succeeded in winning two-thirds of the seats in Congress, including taking control of the senate from the conservative opposition, according to the exit polls.

If confirmed, Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president who came to power in 2006, would have the legislative numbers to pass laws without negotiating with the oposition.

Bolivian President Evo Morales puts on a garland in the locality Villa 14 de Septiembre. Morales won a landslide reelection victory in voting that also handed him unfettered control of Congress, according to exit polls.

Official results from the election were expected late Tuesday.

Much of Morales’s support came from Bolivia’s indigenous majority, which makes up 60 percent of the population and which is now embracing greater powers and pride after long being suppressed by the 40 percent minority of European descent.

Morales followed in Chavez’s footsteps in organizing a referendum changing the constitution early this year that scrapped a previous one-term limit for presidents and allowed him to stand once more for reelection.

Like Chavez, he also hinted on Sunday he intended to stay on beyond the new five-year mandate he was likely given, to see through a “revolution” that he claimed would require decades of stewardship.

“If we talk of the new constitution… this is the first election of Evo Morales,” he argued.

If Morales does stand and win in the next presidential election in 2014, he could stay in power until 2020.

Such a prospect would unsettle the United States, which is wary of the close ties between Chavez and Morales, and their accommodation of US enemy Iran.

Non-indigenous Bolivians who mostly inhabit the more prosperous lowlands in the eastern half of Bolivia, where economically vital natural gas deposits are located, would also be unhappy.

They have proved unable to counter Morales’s reforms which have already included limiting the size of ranches and other land holdings, and nationalizing the energy and telecommunications sectors.

They fear that a Congress dominated by Morales’s party will now pass a law approved in the referendum that would give indigenous communities the right to self-rule. That has already been interpreted as permission to seize land from non-indigenous owners.

Tensions between the president’s supporters and opponents spilled over into deadly violence late last year, though they have subsided somewhat since the January 2009 referendum that knocked Reyes Villa and other “rebel” governors from power.

Reyes Villa additionally faces a threat of jail on corruption charges voiced by Morales in the lead-up to the elections.

The government said the former military officer — who was ousted in a recall question on the referendum along with other “rebel” governors — had bought a plane ticket to flee the country on Monday.

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President, challenger both claim victory in Romania vote

In World on December 7, 2009 at 3:52 am

 Both candidates in Romania‘s presidential run-off vote claimed victory on Sunday, although most exit polls put Social-Democrat Mircea Geoana ahead of incumbent Traian Basescu.

Romanians went to the ballot box hoping for an end to a political standoff that has held up crucial international aid for the recession-wracked European Union member.

“Our victory, my victory is a victory for all Romanians who want a better life,” Geoana said in a speech to supporters just after polling stations closed.

But Basescu insisted he was the winner, telling his supporters: “I have won. I assure you that the correct polls show that I have beaten Mircea Geoana.”

Initial exit polls carried out by the Insomar institute put Geoana’s victory at 51.6 percent while another poll by the Curs institute showed Geoana with 50.8 percent.

Presidential candidate Mircea Geoana celebrates the results of exit polls, which place him first, at the end of the voting day in Bucharest

But later polls for Insomar gave Geoana a narrower 51.2 percent and a CSOP poll even gave Basescu victory with 50.4 percent.

The first official results are not expected before Monday 06H00 GMT.

Romania’s farmers hope new president will end rural neglect

Basescu claimed that the vote of tens of thousands of Romanians living abroad could change the results and called on his supporters to remain “calm” until final results are released.

Geoana called on Basescu to overcome “this moment of bitterness” in order to ease the transfer of power.

Basescu, a former sea captain promising tough state reforms, and Geoana, an ex-diplomat who pledged to maintain jobs and “reunite Romania” after years of political squabbling finished almost neck-and-neck in the first round of voting two weeks ago, with Basescu winning 32.4 percent of ballots and Geoana 31 percent.

But Geoana won the support of the PNL liberal party, Romania’s third main political force.

Turnout was 57 percent, slightly higher than the first round’s 54 percent, for a poll that had been billed as the most important since the fall of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu 20 years ago.

Florica Marinescu, a Bucharest pensioner, said she voted in the hope that “someone new will emerge in five years’ time because we are fed up with always seeing the same politicians”.

But in the countryside, people were more worried about their day-to-day life.

“We are still using mules to plough the land, its unbelievable,” said 63-year-old Valentin Ghetea in Udeni, a town 30 kilometres (19 miles) west of Bucharest.

“Life has always been like that. People who are born in the countryside have fewer chances to succeed than those born in the city,” said Dumitru, 52, a farmer who added he was pessimistic about the future.

Whoever wins will have no time to lose in appointing a prime minister, with Romania stuck in one of the European Union‘s worst recessions. The country has been led by a caretaker government since October.

The International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank, which in March agreed on a 20-billion-euro bailout plan, expect immediate steps to cut public spending after the economy shrank by 7.4 percent in the first nine months of 2009.

Geoana said on Sunday that he would keep his promise of a new government before the end of the year, to be led by independent Klaus Iohannis, an ethnic German who is mayor of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu.

His government would be able to count on the support of a majority of the parties in parliament.

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Tough times force OPEC members to close ranks

In World on December 7, 2009 at 3:52 am

 Divisions within OPEC have eased as the dual threat of the global economic crisis and climate change talks force oil producers to be pragmatic and unified, analysts said on Sunday.

Two years ago, when oil prices soared to nearly 100 dollars a barrel, the oil exporters cartel, which includes both allies and foes of the United States, was severely tested.

The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries was then torn between price hawks like Algeria, Iran, Libya and Venezuela on one side and nations like Saudi Arabia which wanted moderate prices in the interests of consumers.

But the stance of the price hawks has since lost support, leading to a convergence of positions within the bloc.

OAPEC Secretary General Abbas Ali Naqi (L) and Egyptian Oil Minister Sameh Fahmi attend the 83rd meeting of the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) in Cairo on December 5.

Less than three weeks ahead of the next OPEC meeting in Luanda, Angola, the group’s oil ministers agree that quotas must remain at their current level of 24.84 million barrels per day (bpd).

Even US arch-foes Iran and Venezuela support that view.

Although the price of oil is trading at around 75 dollars a barrel, nobody is daring to ask for 100 dollars.

Observers say this unity has come about largely thanks to pragmatism instilled into producers by the events of 2008: an unprecedented price surge to 147.50 dollars a barrel, followed by a plunge to 32.40 dollars in December.

“What happened makes you think. An oil price of 75 dollars is higher than they could have hoped for. Even the most hawkish nations are finding it hard to ask for more,” said Francis Perrin of the Oil and Gas Journal.

This turnaround came about because producers were afraid of another price collapse, according to Julian Lee, analyst at the Centre For Global Energy Studies in London.

“They still have a big fear of oil (prices) falling … They haven’t entirely lost that fear,” said Lee.

Another reason for the appeasement of the hawks was that the countries which traditionally call for high prices have proved less than effective in implementing decisions taken by OPEC.

At a meeting in Oran, Algeria in December 2008, OPEC pledged to withdraw 4.2 million bpd from production from the start of 2009 in order to stabilise the market.

However, the bulk of the sacrifice was provided by Saudi Arabia, while Iran did not implement the agreed cut in production.

“The influence of the hawks is limited” because “if somebody raises the issue of higher prices … he will be told to comply more,” said David Wech, an analyst at JBC Energy.

Finally, while the impact of the global recession is still being felt on oil demand, another key challenge for producers looms in the shape of measures to reduce carbon emissions.

Such a deal could be signed this week in Copenhagen during landmark UN-led talks on tackling global warming.

“When you see in the OPEC bulletins the rising concern linked to climate change, you can see that producers are closing ranks,” said Perrin. “In the hardest times in its history, OPEC tends to stick together.”

Measures to reduce the share of fossil fuels in total energy consumption directly threaten the interests of oil producers.

OPEC’s decision last December to cut production by 4.2 million bpd officially brought down the total output of the 12-member cartel — excluding Iraq — to 24.84 million bpd.

On Friday, crude prices tumbled in volatile trade, succumbing to a stronger dollar following an improved US jobs report picture.

New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for January delivery, fell 99 cents to 75.47 dollars a barrel. In London, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in January dropped 84 cents to settle at 77.52 dollars a barrel.

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Iraq clears way for parliamentary elections

In World on December 7, 2009 at 3:51 am

 Iraqi lawmakers approved plans Sunday to hold parliament elections early next year that are seen as an important step toward political reconciliation and easing the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The vote — during an emergency session convened just before a midnight deadline — followed marathon talks by political leaders to break an impasse over balloting provisions that would satisfy the nation’s rival groups.

“I would like to congratulate the Iraqi people for this historical victory,” said Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who had held up the elections for weeks with a veto. He also hailed political leaders for compromises that “got Iraq out from the bottleneck and out of a problem.”

Journalists watch a television showing Deputy Parliament Speaker Khalid al-Atiya during a press conference, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009.

A failure to pass new elections rules on Sunday would have forced Iraqi to revert to those used in its last parliament election in 2005 and likely throw the political process into a tailspin.

Plans for the election had been mired for weeks over al-Hashemi’s demands for a greater political voice for minority Sunnis and the distribution of seats in Iraq’s expanded 325-seat parliament.

The election is scheduled for Jan. 16, but a delay of a month or more now appears likely. A longer postponement could have complicated the withdrawal timetable for U.S. forces, which are scheduled to end combat missions in August.

The full details of the pact were not immediately clear. But it appeared to resolve objections from al-Hashemi, who vetoed the election law to demand equal voting rights for Iraqis living abroad — mostly fellow Sunnis whose votes could increase Sunni clout in the next parliament.

Kurds also had objected to the distribution of seats among the country’s 18 provinces, claiming they were being under-represented at the expense of Sunnis and majority Shiites, who suffered widespread repression under Saddam Hussein but took command of Iraqi’s political leadership and security forces after his fall.

The next election will also be a critical test for the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which has staked its future on a broad pro-Western political coalition with Sunnis and other factions. His main challenge comes from within the Shiite ranks: an alliance of religious-oriented Shiite parties that include the biggest Shiite political group and anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The new parliament will be expanded from the current 275 seats to 325, said Deputy Parliament Speaker Khalid al-Attiyah. At least 15 seats are set aside for religious and ethnic minorities such as Christians and Turkomen.

In an apparent concession to the Kurds, some seats that had been shifted to Sunni areas were returned, said al-Attiyah. Kurds, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, also received two of the special minority seats for Christian Kurds.

Another important change also was agreed for the coming election: voting lists will be “open” and have all the names of the candidates. In past elections, voters had a so-called “closed list” with only the parties — which then announced their parliament members after the ballots were counted.

“It will be an open list election,” said al-Attiyah.

There was tremendous pressure to reach an accord. Al-Hashemi’s veto expired Sunday and he had threatened to reinstate it if his demands were not met.

Up until the last moment, al-Hashemi had warned he would again use his veto power. During the showdown talks, however, al-Maliki and U.S. diplomats appealed strongly for concessions on all sides, said officials close to the talks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were no authorized to brief media.

Earlier Sunday, gunmen killed four Iraqi policemen at a checkpoint west of Baghdad, police officials said.

The attack came as security officials warned of a possible rise in insurgent attacks before next year’s election and the U.S. withdrawal of combat troops due by the end of August. It also follows an attack last month that left 13 dead in the same area.

Gunmen stormed the checkpoint in Abu Ghraib, on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, at about 7 a.m. and killed one policeman on duty and three others on a break, according to two police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give information to the media.

Last month, 13 villagers in the Abu Ghraib area were killed in an attack possibly linked to tribal rivalries.

Witnesses said gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms abducted and killed the 13, whose bodies were later found with gunshot wounds to the head. They included a local leader of Iraq’s largest Sunni party, which once helped fight al-Qaida.


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