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Archive for December 10th, 2009|Daily archive page

VN, US boost cooperation in pharmaceuticals

In Vietnam Health on December 10, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Vietnam demonstrated interest in the United States ’ proposals on boosting bilateral cooperation in the field of pharmaceutical chemistry.

At a meeting with former US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky in Hanoi on December 9, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai stressed the importance of the pharmaceutical chemistry as a spearhead in the high-tech sector.

Vietnam ’s target to build a pharmaceutical industry will allow the country to boost its economy by gradually reducing its dependence on foreign imports, and take initiatives in providing healthcare services to people.

For her part, Barshefsky informed Hai of the work between the US delegation and the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Health in that the two sides acknowledged opportunities and challenges in the development of the pharmaceutical chemistry in Vietnam as well as investment and cooperation orientations in the field between the two countries.

The two sides reached a consensus that foreign investment attraction in the field should go together with technology transference which is an important factor to boost the pharmaceutical chemistry in the Southeast Asian nation.

Charlene Barshefsky held post as US Trade Representative in Vietnam from 1997-2001. She has also contributed to the signing of the Vietnam-US Bilateral Trade Agreement.

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WHO reaffirms H1N1 vaccine saves lives

In Vietnam Health on December 10, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Vaccination remains an effective form of protection against the H1N1 virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said in response to a request from Vietnam for clarification on the safety of the vaccine. 

The WHO representative office in Vietnam and the National Steering Board for Human Flu Prevention released the statement December 9 after Vietnamese officials expressed concern over a bad batch of vaccine used in Canada.

Earlier this year, WHO launched an initiative to ensure H1N1 vaccine access to several low- and middle-income countries.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) pledged 50 million doses in May 2009, of which Vietnam was set to receive 1.2 million, which would cover about 2 percent of its population.

GSK signed a donation agreement with the WHO on November 10, 2009 to provide the vaccine, known as Arepanrix, to Vietnam. The WHO expected to ship the doses between December 9, 2009 and February 2010.

Concern was raised, however, after higher-than-normal adverse effects were reported following immunization with a particular batch of Arepanrix in Canada. The adjuvanted vaccine was produced at GSK’s Canadian facility and authorized for use on October 21, 2009.

On November 24, GSK announced it would voluntarily withdraw the bad batch.

A December 4 report from the Public Health Agency of Canada, said seven cases of anaphylaxis following immunization from the batch had been confirmed.

This frequency was higher than the usual 0.1-1 adverse reactions per 100,000 doses. However, the WHO confirms there have been no deaths conclusively linked to the vaccine in any country.

Vietnamese health agencies, however, said they would wait for official investigation results from Canadian health authorities before accepting the vaccine.

The WHO stressed it had pre-qualified Arepanrix based on standard protocols and information on vaccine safety and quality. The health authority estimates some 150 million doses of H1N1 influenza vaccine have been distributed worldwide and 95 million doses administered, of which 30 percent are adjuvanted vaccines.

Immediate hypersensitivity has been reported following the use of all types of H1N1 vaccines including a rash or swelling at the point of injection, and allergic reactions. Symptoms range from mild to serious while anaphylaxis can be life threatening in the absence of prompt medical treatment.

The WHO also asserts that the primary goal of vaccination is to target the “at risk” population such as those with chronic conditions, pregnant women, persons living in remote and isolated communities and health workers.

Vaccination in these groups lessens the risk of transmission, complications and death from the disease, the WHO says.

The global health body has reiterated that the risks posed by adverse reactions to the vaccines are still far smaller than the risks to at-risk populations of serious illness from pandemic influenza.

Meanwhile, at the December 9 meeting of the National Steering Board for Human Flu Prevention, Dr. Nguyen Tran Hien, head of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, announced the WHO was ready to provide vaccines to Vietnam when officials gave permission.

Dr. Nguyen Huy Nga, chief of the Preventive Health and Environment Department, told the meeting there have been no more reports of H1N1 deaths in the country since DATE?. So far Vietnam has had 46 fatalities related to the virus, of which 12 were pregnant.

Dr. Hien also expressed concern over the high rate of H1N1 infections in the country, adding that there was a strong possibility of the H1N1 (swine flu) and H5N1 (bird flu) viruses combining into more lethal forms.

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Hanoi’s magnificent mustard blossoms

In Vietnam Culture on December 10, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Each year beginning around November, visitors flock to riverside villages near Hanoi to witness the splendor of the annual mustard blossoms.

A couple pose photo with a mustard field in suburban Hanoi.

Fields of luscious yellow blooms are located 30 km west of Hanoi and holidaymakers, especially city-dwellers with little time, are drawn to the area for its breathtaking beauty.

Every year when the cold comes in from the north, the mustard plants come into bloom and last until March. The golden flora has even become a symbol of northern Vietnam’s countryside.  

Fields of mustard blossoms in villages along the Duong River banks in Gia Lam District of Hanoi and Thuan Thanh District of Bac Ninh Province are the most famous, with a strip of yellow blooms stretching all the way to the horizon.

There are three kinds of mustard flowers native to Vietnam. One is white in color, giving the blossoms a look of purity, the second is a brilliant yellow variety, and another is a deep golden hue giving the impression of tiny sunflowers. 

Mustard is also grown along the national highway from Noi Bai International Airport to Hanoi’s city center, dazzling visitors upon their arrival.

Trang Le, a reporter from Vietnam television, said she liked to sit on a dyke and watch the endless fields of golden blooms. It gives her great joy to see visitors delight over the spectacular scenery, she added.

Mustards blossoms are also used in cooking or to garnish dishes, but many say they look most impressive growing wild in their natural environment. No matter what the weather, the flowers have a way of brightening even the cloudiest of days.

It seems like the hustling just melt away.

The delicate flora also makes the perfect backdrop for photos and provides unlimited inspiration for artists. Others, meanwhile, simply like to sit quietly and take in the stunning surroundings.

The most important thing is to experience nature and a different feeling from that of living in urban areas, said Nguyen Thanh, a student from Thang Long University.

“Although the mustard fields aren’t that far from Hanoi, when you stand amongst them it seems like the traffic, pollution, and bustling activity of the city just melt away,” he added.

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European Food Festival returns to HCMC

In Vietnam Culture on December 10, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Gastronomes in Ho Chi Minh City will once again have the chance to indulge in a variety of rich European food during the 4th European Food Festival on December 12.

Organized by the European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) in Vietnam, the annual food fair will feature 25 food and drink pavilions from leading HCM City hotels and restaurants including the Caravelle, Park Hyatt, Sheraton, Sofitel, Pacharan and Pendolasco.

Delicacies will be also served up from the likes of An Nam Gourmet, New Zealand Ice Cream, Red Apron, the Vine Group and more.

Food lovers can sample an offering of cheeses imported from France and the Netherlands, along with Belgian chocolate and German beer. Delicious coffee, cappuccino and expresso drinks prepared by Espressamente Illy will also be on hand.

In addition, a host of activities are lined up to entertain audiences including live music performances by Emerald Flamenco, an “Ao dai” (Vietnamese traditional tunic) fashion show, a lucky draw for prizes and vacations, and a kids’ corner.

There will also be an exclusive charity sale of Unilever brand cosmetics to benefit Poussières de Vie and Saigon Children’s Charity.

This year’s 4th European Food Festival will be held at HCM City’s EuroCham at 257 Hoang Van Thu, Tan Binh District, from 5.30pm to 11.00pm.

Tickets cost 280,000 VND for those 12 years and above and can be purchased at the EuroCham HCMC office, 49 Mac Dinh Chi, Dist. 1. Children are allowed free entry but must purchase vouchers to buy food and beverages.

Last year’s European Food Festival attracted over 800 people.

For more information and ticket reservation, contact or call 08 3827 2715.

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Germ-free kids may risk more adult illnesses: study

In World on December 10, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Parents who let their kids romp in the mud and eat food that has fallen on the floor could be helping to protect them against maladies like heart disease later in life, a US study showed Wednesday.

Our research suggests that ultra-clean, ultra-hygienic environments early in life may contribute to higher levels of inflammation as an adult, which in turn increases risks for a wide range of diseases,” including cardiovascular disease, Thomas McDade, lead author of the study, said.

Researchers at Northwestern University in the state of Illinois looked at data from a study in the Philippines, which followed participants from birth to 22 years of age.

The data were compiled by tracking children born in the 1980s to 3,327 Filipino mothers.

Researchers visited the children every two months for the first two years of their lives and then spaced out the visits to every four or five years until the kids reached their 20s.

Among items that the researchers assessed were the hygiene of the children’s household environment — “whether domestic animals such as pigs and dogs roamed freely” — and their families’ socioeconomic resources.

Blood tests taken when the study participants reached adulthood showed that although Filipinos suffer far more infectious diseases as infants and toddlers than their American counterparts, their level of C-reactive protein (CRP) when they reached adulthood was at least 80 percent lower than in Americans.

Filipinos in their early 20s had average CRP concentrations of 0.2 milligrams per liter, while Americans in the same age group had blood concentrations of the protein of 1-1.5 milligrams per liter.

“CRP concentrations are incredibly low in Filipinos compared to people in the United States and that was counter to what a lot of people would have anticipated because we know that Filipinos have higher exposure to infectious diseases,” McDade told AFP.

One finding of the study published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society was that adults with high CRP levels — indicating more inflammation — were exposed to less animal feces in the home as kids.

But that should not serve as an impetus to rush out and buy a pig to have running around the home, said McDade — adding that Americans’ obsession with hygiene would probably rule that out anyway.

Rather, he said, the message to take home from the study is the importance of being exposed early in life to common microbes and bacteria.

“These bacteria and microbes may never result in outright clinical disease but they do play an important role in promoting the development of regulatory networks,” said McDade, who is an associate professor of anthropology at Northwestern and a fellow at the university’s institute for policy research.

To explain the importance of exposure to such microbes, McDade, who has a two-and-a-half-year-old son, likened immune system development to the way Americans promote brain development in infants and toddlers by exposing them to “all sorts of cognitive and social stimuli.”

“There’s rapid brain growth early in life and there are lots of neurological connections being formed, and you need to engage with your environment in order to promote those connections,” he said.

“The immune system also needs engagement with its environment to drive its development, and without that environmental input, we’re depriving it of a necessary source of information that it needs to promote its development,” said McDade.

And with his own child, McDade said he ignores the two-second rule when food drops on the floor.

“I don’t hesitate – I tell him to pick it up and eat it,” he said.

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Giant oil spill in Alaska likely caused by ice

In World on December 10, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Officials believe that ice plugged up a pipeline and likely caused a rupture that sent 46,000 gallons of crude oil and water gushing onto snow-covered tundra on Alaska’s North Slope late last month.

The spill is one of the worst by volume since the March 2006 spill of 200,000 gallons of crude at Prudhoe Bay, the biggest spill ever on the North Slope, according to Department of Environmental Conservation figures.

BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said Wednesday that an ice buildup is likely to blame in the Nov. 29 spill, leading to an increase in pressure that caused the 18-inch diameter pipe to rupture.

In this Dec. 7, 2009 picture provided by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, crews use steamer equipment to melt contaminated material for collection with a vacuum rig

Oil and water sprayed out of a 2-foot lengthwise rupture along the bottom of the pipe. Up to three-quarters of an acre of tundra was affected. Most of the oil and water congealed in a large pile under the pipe.

“There is a lot of material on the ground,” said Tom DeRuyter, the on-scene spill coordinator for the Alaska Department of Conservation.

The pipeline normally carried 75 percent water and 25 percent oil, as well as gas, to a processing center at the Lisburne oil field. It is not known what the percentages were when the line ruptured, Rinehart said.

Responders were using a variety of methods to clean up the spill. Methods include applying steam to loosen the congealed material and vacuum it up. Equipment also was brought in to scoop up the oil and frozen water and transport it to an area where it will be melted, separated and measured.

“That mechanical cleanup has proven to be pretty effective,” Rinehart said.

The ruptured pipeline, which is about 5 feet above the ground, is not affecting production from the Prudhoe Bay oil field, North America’s largest oil

Rinehart said the definitive reason for the most recent spill won’t be known until an investigation is completed.

BP is currently on probation for the 2006 spill after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor conviction and paying $20 million in fines and restitution. That spill was blamed on corrosion in a pipeline.

Rinehart said several weeks before the rupture the line was shut down because of restricted flowAnother larger pipeline adjacent to the pipe was handling the extra volume.

Rinehart said the paired pipelines were each equipped with individual temperature sensors near where the lines enter the processing center. He said he did not know if the sensors indicated there was a problem. A BP employee discovered the rupture in the line during a routine early morning inspection.

The line was last inspected in 2008 and found to be serviceable, he said.

After the rupture, the pipe was X-rayed and it was determined that there was approximately 1,300 feet between two large “ice plugs,” as the buildups are called. Engineers were considering methods for melting the plugs when it split. Those methods include applying heat, or introducing deicer and warm crude into the line.

Rinehart said ice plugs can form in pipelines and occasionally are a problem, even sometimes ending in a rupture.

“They are a feature of operating in the Arctic,” he said. “You try not to have them happen. When they do, you deal with them.”

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Gunmen seize 65 people in southern Philippines: army

In World on December 10, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Gunmen seized 65 schoolchildren, teachers and other residents of a village in the volatile southern Philippines on Thursday, then released 18 of them, authorities said.

Major Michelle Anayron, an army spokesman, told AFP a “criminal gang” abducted the group from San Martin village in Agusan del Sur province on Mindanao island.

Anayron said the suspects were members of the Perez Group, which he described as an “organised crime group” that is known to local police.

The area is a well-known hotbed of communist New People’s Army guerrillas, but Anayron said the Perez Group was not believed to have communist links.

File photo shows Philippine soldiers on patrol on Mindanao island, in the southern Philippines.

He gave no other details about the group.

Provincial police director Chief Superintendent Lino Calingasan said 18 of the captives were freed unharmed, 17 of whom were schoolchildren and the other a teacher, after eight hours in captivity.

“Negotiations are still continuing for the safe release of the other hostages,” Calingasan told reporters.

Mindanao is an extremely volatile part of the Southeast Asian archipelago, and makes up the southern third of the country.

Aside from communist fighters, Muslim rebels fighting for an independent homeland have waged an insurgency since the 1970s that has claimed more than 150,000 lives, according to the military.

Many other gangs with no affiliations to communists or Muslim rebels frequently engage in kidnappings for ransom and other crimes.

Martial law was imposed in another province on Mindanao last week after a political massacre there left 57 people dead.

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China slaps penalties on US, Russian steel

In World on December 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm

China said Thursday it will impose penalties on steel imported from the United States and Russia, claiming the countries were allowing it to be sold at a cut price.

The preliminary ruling requires importers of grain-oriented electrical steel, which is widely used in the power industry, to pay deposits from Friday, the commerce ministry said in a statement on its website.

“The domestic grain-oriented electrical steel industry suffered material damages” due to the dumping, the statement said following an investigation.

Dumping occurs when a foreign company sells a product in another market at less than normal value.

The ruling is the latest in a series of disputes between China and the United States, which have heightened trade tensions between the economic giants.

A port worker signals for an overhead crane operator to hoist a huge coil of steel at a port in New Jersey.

Companies will have to pay a deposit based on the difference — up to 25 percent — between the normal value of the steel and the cut price, the ministry said.

China also will charge for the first time an anti-subsidy deposit after the probe found US companies received government subsidies on grain-oriented electrical steel.

The deposits will be repaid to the importers if the preliminary ruling is overturned, according to Chinese rules.

Simmering tensions between Washington and Beijing boiled over in September when the Obama administration announced it would slap duties on Chinese-made tyres to protect US producers.

Since then, the world’s number one and three economies have traded a series of accusations of unfair trade practices.

In one of its retaliatory moves, Beijing lodged a complaint at the World Trade Organization and launched a probe into possible unfair trade practices involving imports of US car products and chicken meat.

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SKorea vows to go ahead with Afghan troop dispatch

In World on December 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm

 South Korea vowed Thursday to press ahead with plans to send troops back to Afghanistan despite a Taliban threat of retaliation.

South Korea, a longtime U.S. ally, said it would send up to 350 troops next year to protect its civilian aid workers working in the province of Parwan, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The Taliban said in a statement Wednesday that the move would violate a South Korean promise in 2007 to withdraw from Afghanistan permanently in exchange for the release of 21 hostages.

Officials from South Korea’s Defense Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff denied that the government made such a promise to the Taliban. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

Twenty-three South Koreans were taken hostage in 2007 after their government had already decided to remove its troops from Afghanistan. Two of the hostages were killed by the Taliban, who demanded that the South Korean troops be withdrawn immediately.

South Korea later pulled its approximately 200 soldiers from the country, and has had no troops there since 2007.

Under a Defense Ministry plan, the new troops are to be deployed from July 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2012, in Parwan, where the main U.S. base is located. The ministry was expected to submit a request to the National Assembly later Thursday for its approval.

Opposition legislators have opposed the dispatch plan, citing unstable security conditions in Afghanistan. The ruling Grand National Party, however, has enough seats in the assembly to pass the proposal.

A statement sent late Wednesday from an e-mail address regularly used by the Taliban warned that South Korean leaders “should be prepared for the consequence of their action, which they will certainly face.”

“They had promised to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan and committed never to send soldiers to the country in future,” said the statement, received by The Associated Press in Islamabad.

Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told reporters the ministry would go ahead with the troop dispatch.

“Our troops will be operating there after formulating complete security measures and there would not be any major problem,” Won told reporters.

South Korea also dispatched troops to Iraq in 2003-2008, part of efforts to bolster its alliance with Washington.

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Obama lands in Norway to accept peace prize

In World on December 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm

US President Barack Obama landed in Norway on Thursday to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, amid controversy over his role as a “war president” and widespread doubts about whether he deserves the honor.

Obama touched down after an overnight flight from Washington on Air Force One, ahead of a day of ceremonies marking the surprise decision by the Nobel committee to honor the first-year president.

Norway was rolling out its biggest ever security operation to protect Obama, who aides said would address the apparent paradox in being honored as a man of peace days after ordering 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Police guard the main entrance of the Grand Hotel in Oslo where US President Barack Obama will stay during his visit to Oslo

Two military choppers circled above the hotel where Obama will stay while others flew over the city centre as part of an operation costing the government around 92 million kroner (10.9 million euros, 16 million dollars) — more than 10 times the prize money awarded to the Peace Prize laureate.

Barricades were placed along the sidewalks of Oslo‘s main avenues, between 2,000 and 2,500 police officers have been mobilised, the Schengen-member country reinstated border controls and anti-aircraft missiles were deployed near the airport and around Oslo to ensure the president’s security.

The beefed-up protection was however not necessarily reflective of support for the choice of Obama as the 2009 Peace Prize laureate.

A controversial choice as soon as it was announced on October 9 because of US engagement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, announced only nine days before Thursday’s Nobel prize ceremony, raised eyebrows further.Related article: Obama to address Afghan war paradox

Obama will dwell on the sombre paradox of waging war in Afghanistan even as he is lauded as a man of peace when he accepts his prize, White House director of speechwriting Jon Favreau told AFP.

After less than a year in power, with few defining foreign policy wins and with his once soaring popularity fading at home, Obama faces a sensitive political assignment during a day of solemn ceremonies in Oslo.

Favreau said Obama would speak solemnly about the odd coincidence of accepting the revered prize a week after ordering 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in a major war escalation.

“The president is receiving a peace prize as the commander-in-chief of a nation that is in two wars,” acknowledged Favreau, one of two White House speechwriters working on the text with Obama.

With many critics suggesting that Obama’s resume is too thin to stand scrutiny with other Nobel peace laureates, the president will also seek to deflect attention from himself, aides said.

“He sees this as less of a recognition of his own accomplishments and more of an affirmation of a desire for American leadership in the 21st century,” Favreau said.

Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told public radio NRK this week that most US presidents face conflicts and wars — but the new mood in US foreign policy justified Obama’s elevation.

Obama will be in Oslo for just over 24 hours to pick up the award that adds him to a list of laureates including Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Events related to the formal Nobel Peace Prize ceremony normally run over three days, but the president has shortened his visit and excluded the traditional lunch with the king and a Friday night concert in his honour.

There will also be no day-before press conference or lengthy CNN sit-down interview laureates usually grant — enabling him to avoid potentially embarrassing questions.

Obama will however watch the traditional torchlight procession on Thursday evening from the balcony of the Grand Hotel, where bullet-proof glass has been installed.

The other Nobel laureates in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, economics and literature will meanwhile receive their awards at a gala ceremony in Stockholm on Thursday.

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