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Archive for December 22nd, 2009|Daily archive page

PM orders healthcare improvement in 2010

In Vietnam Health on December 22, 2009 at 1:20 pm

In a recent meeting with heath sector representatives, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered better mobilization of all resources to reduce overcrowding in major city hospitals next year.

Over the next five years, the health sector must also improve the quality of medical treatment, ensure enough beds for patients, and call for investment in healthcare facilities, Mr. Dung stressed.

The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health says the problem of overcrowded hospitals is due to an influx of patients from neighboring provinces to major medical clinics in the city. 

Several patients  forced to share a single bed at the Trauma and Orthopedics hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has directed the healthcare sector to improve its services and reduce overcrowding in 2010 ( Photo: SGGP)

In a bid to ease the pressure on these clinics, the Ministry of Health launched an initiative early this year to rotate thousands of medical staff in rural areas.

The program has yielded good results in improving treatment quality and self-sufficiency in suburban areas and especially in mountainous and remote areas.

Under the program, 21,526 doctors in provinces and districts have been receiving training in hundreds of complex medical procedures. This has reduced the need to transfer patients to larger hospitals by 30 percent.

The HCM City Trauma and Orthopedics Hospital, for instance, provides training for staff at 34 satellite hospitals in the city and other provinces.

In addition, the hospital sends staff to other infirmaries when they are in need and strives to apply new techniques to help patients recover quickly and leave the hospital sooner.

But a consistent shortage of personnel and equipment along with yearly increases in the number of patients, creates continual challenges for the program, said Trauma and Orthopedics Hospital Director Tran Thanh My.

Furthermore, skilled doctors often avoid rotations since they have their own private practices to attend to and long absences have a negative effect on their local patients, said Dr. Lam Hoai Phuong, director of the Maxillo Facial Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

Dr. Pham Xuan Dung, deputy director of the Tumor Hospital in the city’s Binh Thanh District, said his hospital had implemented several other measures to improve patient service that had shown positive results.

The facility began seeing patients as early as 6am; installed a formalized number-taking system; performed surgery on weekends; implemented new diagnostic and treatment technology; and offered services outside of regular working hours. The efforts paid off and the hospital was able to treat more than 38,000 patients in 2009, said Dr. Dung.

The hospital also provides training to healthcare staff in the southern provinces of Dong Nai, Tien Giang, Can Tho and Kien Giang. However, Dr. Dung said many patients in rural areas still consider hospitals in major cities to be superior.

Experts say the country’s healthcare conundrum therefore requires a more comprehensive approach to improving quality and reducing crowding.

Related article:
Hospital overcrowding jeopardizes lives

Medical Staff Take Turns to Serve in Commune Hospitals: Health Minister

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Vietnamese film wins Asia-Pacific award

In Vietnam Culture on December 22, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Movie Choi voi (Adrift) directed by Bui Thac Chuyen and produced by Feature Film Studio 1, won the Best Sound Effects award at the 2009 Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. 

      Poster of Adrift

The film earlier received the 16th Vietnamese Film Festival’s Best Director award last week and the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize at the 66th Venice Film Festival in September. It has also screened around the world at other international film fests in Toronto, Busan, London, Fukuoka and Bangkok.

This year the Vietnamese movie industry presented three films including Dung dot (Don’t Burn), Trang noi day gieng (The Moon at the Bottom of the Well), and Choi voi at the 2009 Asia-Pacific Film Festival held from December 17-20.

Two documentaries, Bai ca tren dinh Ta Nung (A song on Ta Nung Mountain) and Loi nguyen cau (Prayer) were also screened, according to the Department of Movies of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The 53rd Asia Pacific Film Festival showcased 58 films in total from 14 member nations and regions.

Highlights of the awards included Indonesian movie “The Rainbow Troops” winning Best Film; Taiwan’s Leon Dai winning Best Director for “No Peudo Vivir Sin Ti”; Hong Kong’s Nick Cheung winning Best Actor for “The Beast Stalker;” Taiwan’s Sandrine Pinna winning Best Actress for “Yang Yang;” Hong Kong film “Accident” winning Best Screenplay; Taiwan’s “Baseball Boys” winning Best Documentary; and Thailand’s “Story of the Noble Warrior” winning Best Animation.

In addition, world-renowned filmmaker John Woo of Hong Kong received a lifetime achievement award.

Related article:
Three local films to screen at Asia-Pacific film fest

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Top German DJ to perform in Hanoi

In Vietnam Culture on December 22, 2009 at 1:18 pm

World-renowned DJ and producer Mijk Van Dijk from Berlin, Germany will travel to Vietnam for a music performance titled “Green Planet” at the Giang Vo Exhibition Center in Hanoi December 26.

         World leading DJ and producer Mijk Van Dijk

One of Germany’s most prolific producers of the ’90s, Van Dijk recorded an abundance of early techno/trance classics under the aliases Microglobe, Mindgear, and Marmion

By 1992, the release of two solo singles – “High on Hope” as Microglobe and “Don’t Panic” as Mindgear – pushed Van Dijk’s name into the global realm. He went on to collaborate with fellow German up-and-comer Cosmic Baby to produce the seminal compilation: Formed From Beyond.

In 1993, Van Dijk’s third major project Marmion (co-produced with Marcos Lopez) debuted, released by Superstition Records. Van Dijk’s rise to fame continued after the track “Schönberg” proved popular on dance floors around the globe.

In 1997, he began releasing albums under his real name Mijk Van Dijk.

After a hiatus of several years, Van Dijk began making a comeback in 2006. His releases on labels such as International DeeJay Gigolo Recordings, Big & Dirty, Kling Klong and BluFin once again became staples in electronic music. 

Tickets for Van Dijk’s upcoming Hanoi concert, sponsored by Heineken, cost VND50,000 (US$2.60) including one Heineken beer. They can be purchased at the Giang Vo Exhibition Center from December 24.

Free tickets can also be obtained by registering at the website

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Google, Bing deals make Twitter profitable: BusinessWeek

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Twitter has reached profitability after signing deals with Google and Microsoft to make the micro-blogging service searchable on the Internet, BusinessWeek magazine reported on Monday.

BusinessWeek, which was purchased in October by financial news agency Bloomberg, said Twitter had signed a 15-million-dollar data-mining deal with Google and a 10-million-dollar agreement with Microsoft.

“The deals were huge,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek quoted an unidentified person “familiar with the company’s finances” as saying. “With two scoops of the pen, a lot of revenue came in.”

The magazine said the agreements to make Twitter messages known as “tweets” searchable by Google and Microsoft’s new search engine Bing “carry sufficient value to help Twitter achieve a small profit for 2009.”

It said Twitter also achieved profitability by renegotiating deals with telecommunications companies to bring down costs.

Twitter has been working on ways to make money from its globally popular service, and revenue producing ideas mentioned to date include selling premium accounts that businesses could use for marketing or image building.

The San Francisco-based startup has won millions of users since the service that allows people to pepper one another with 140-character-or-less messages launched in August 2006.


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Big freeze kills at least 80 across Europe

In World on December 22, 2009 at 1:17 pm

The death toll from winter storms across Europe rose to at least 80 on Monday as transport chaos spread amid mounting anger over the three-day failure of Eurostar high-speed trains.

Airplanes standing on the snow-covered tarmac at the airport in Duesseldorf, western Germany. (AFP Photo)

With tens of thousands stranded by the cancellation of London-to-Paris trains and hundreds of flights across the continent, new accidents and mass power cuts added to the big freeze tumult.

A car veered off an icy road and knocked concrete onto rails, derailing a Paris commuter train and injuring 36 people, police said. Three hundred people had to be evacuated from the train.

Another train in the Croatian capital Zagreb hit a buffer injuring 52 people.

Croatian investigators blamed the minus 17 degrees Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) temperatures for a brake failure, national television reported. European temperatures as low as minus 33.6 degrees Celsius (minus 28.5 Fahrenheit) have been recorded in Bavaria.

In Poland, authorities said 42 people, many of them homeless, had died of cold over three days after temperatures plunged to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four Fahrenheit).

Ukraine reported 27 deaths while six people were killed in accidents in Germany and three in Austria.

France has reported at least two deaths of homeless people, and the national power company briefly cut electricity to two million people on Monday saying it was necessary to avoid an even bigger blackout amid surging demand.

More flights were cancelled in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain and main highways were blocked across Europe where some regions had more than 50 centimetres (20 inches) of snow.

The breakdown of the Eurostar service under the Channel, linking London with Paris and Brussels, has symbolised Europe’s suffering.

After the nightmare of more than 2,000 people stuck in the tunnel when five trains broke down Friday, tens of thousands more people have missed trains cancelled since then, with Eurostar announcing a “restricted” service for Tuesday.

But those trains will only run for passengers originally due to travel Saturday or Sunday, with the remainder of the backlog to be cleared over the next few days. Normal service is not expected to resume before Christmas Day.

The French transport ministry has ordered an investigation into the breakdown, which Eurostar said has been caused by trains unable to handle the change from freezing temperatures outside to warm temperatures in the tunnel.

Eurostar said it had launched its own independent review.

The winter storms caused other disruption across Europe.

Air traffic was again badly hit as temperatures remained glacial: minus 20 degrees Celsius in Sibiu in Romania, where more than 50 centimetres of snow fell, and minus seven Celsius in Venice, Italy.

Seven hundred people spent the night on camp beds at Amsterdam-Schipol airport and more flights were cancelled after dozens were grounded Sunday.

The Dutch rail network was also badly hit with the railway company advising commuters to stay at home.

Heavy snowfall led to more delays and cancellations at Frankfurt and Duesseldorf airports in Germany, where more than 500 flights were cancelled or redirected on Sunday.

Twenty percent of flights out of Paris-Charles de Gaulle were cancelled Monday. The main RER commuter train line running east to west across the Paris region has been out of action for 12 days because of a strike.

Spanish civil aviation authorities said 174 flights from Madrid-Barajas airport were called off. Flights from Lisbon to Madrid were among those hit while main roads in northern Portugal were cut by snow.

Brussels airport also reported cancellations and delays.

After more snow falls on Moscow, authorities sent out 13,000 dump trucks to clear the streets as chronic traffic jams built up.

In Britain, more airport delays hit passengers while snow forced the postponement of Wigan’s English Premier League football match against Bolton Wanderers.

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British party leaders to hold TV election debates

In World on December 22, 2009 at 1:17 pm

The leaders of Britain’s three main political parties will take part in a series of televised debates before next year’s general election, broadcasters and politicians said Monday.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown(R) with Conservative Party Leader David Cameron in November 2009.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the Labour Party will go head-to-head with David Cameron, leader of the main opposition Conservatives, plus Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats in three debates.

Such events are common in other countries, including the United States, but it will be a first for Britain, although Brown debates with Cameron and Clegg weekly in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Brown said the debates were needed to tackle differences on key issues such as funding for the National Health Service (NHS).

“The country needs to debate whether we lock in the recovery or whether we choke it off; whether we protect the NHS, schools and police or whether we put them at risk to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy few,” he said.

Cameron said the move showed Britain had “joined the 21st century” and was a “step forward for our democracy”.

“I think that’s a thoroughly good thing,” he said. “I think it will help enliven our democracy, I think it will help answer peoples’ questions.”

The debates will take place during the general election campaign. The poll itself must be held by June 2010, although Brown can call the exact date which observers say is likely to come in May.

The move was announced by broadcasters BBC, ITV and Sky which will each screen one of the peak-time debates in shows lasting up to 90 minutes.

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From war zones to malls, Christmas comes to Asia

In World on December 22, 2009 at 1:16 pm

From fairy lights and tinsel on military bases in Afghanistan to a Green Santa in Japan, a Secret Santa in South Korea and a Boozy Santa in Vietnam, Christmas has come to Asia — home, of course, to the World Champion Santa from Hong Kong.

This handout photo taken and received on December 20, 2009 from Wasabi Creations shows Hong Kong magician, Jimmy Chan (R), recently voted the world’s top Santa Claus, greeting visitors as he makes an appearance at a Hong Kong shopping mall. (AFP Photo)

For a region without all that many Christians, Asia has a lot of Christmas.

Jingle Bells is as likely to haunt shoppers in malls in Buddhist Bangkok or Islamic Jakarta as it is in London or New York.

And in the background can be heard the massed ringing of cash-registers in China’s southern Guangdong province, Santa’s modern grotto, which exported four billion dollars-worth of toys in the first nine months of this year.

While it is mainly the commercial and festive charms of Christmas that have worked their way into end of year celebrations in Asian countries, the region’s Christians keep the religious traditions alive.

In the Philippines, where some 80 percent of the population of about 94 million are Catholics, the season begins with nine pre-dawn masses from December 16 and ends with the celebration of Epiphany in January.

The military also takes a breather from fighting Muslim separatists and communist insurgencies with an annual Christmas truce, which is traditionally reciprocated by the rebels.

In Afghanistan there may be no truce, but US soldiers tramping back to base from muddy patrols through impoverished villages in biting temperatures are welcomed with Christmas trees, fairy lights and tinsel.

In Kandahar, one of the deadliest flashpoints in the war, Canadian Captain Glen Parent said carol singing, Christmas food with all the trimmings and church services will be laid on to create a home away from home.

In the capital Kabul, boutiques selling local embroidery and trinkets do a roaring trade as expatriate aid workers stock up on presents before flying home for the festive season.

But children in Japan are unlikely to be on the receiving end of any of those gifts if Green Santa gets his way.

“The green Santa Claus does not necessarily give out gift boxes to children, but he tells them how precious the natural environment is,” said Shoko Ito, director of the Green Santa Foundation.

“Instead of giving gift boxes, he promises children a peaceful and beautiful Christmas time in the future,” Ito said.

The group, which deploys a traditional Santa with a long white beard but clad in a green outfit, raises funds to conserve forests and gives lectures on environmental issues at schools.

In South Korea, by contrast, children eagerly await Christmas Eve when parents — whether among the country’s 13.7 million Christians or not — shower them with gifts in the name of Santa Claus.

Residents of the southwestern city of Jeonju will also be watching to see if a secret Santa — who has donated more than 81 million won (69,500 dollars) since 2000 — will visit again this year.

He has regularly left donations for needy residents — phoning in anonymous tips about where the cash can be found — but has never been spotted, local media report.

In communist Vietnam, with about six million Catholics in a population of 86 million, some churches in the capital Hanoi have been brightly decorated with lights and red bunting and carols can be heard in the evenings.

But the commercial side of the festival has also made its mark. Outside one bar a giant Santa stands on a bed of fluffy fake snow — clutching to his belly a monstrous can of beer.

Glitzy Hong Kong, however, has produced a real live Santa who in a recent competition in northern Sweden beat contestants from around the world in the traditional skills of chimney climbing, gift wrapping and reindeer racing.

A jubilant Jimmy Chan, a 44-year-old magician who had never seen snow before the contest and does not speak much English, wished everyone “Happy Christmas” in Cantonese on Swedish television.

While Chinese New Year may be Hong Kong’s biggest celebration, the former British colony still celebrates Christmas with gusto a dozen years after its return to China.

The city is festooned with Christmas lights, carols are inescapable in malls and office buildings and some retail workers — possibly against their will — have taken to wearing red Santa hats.

Other former British colonies also find space for Christmas festivities decades after winning their independence and despite Christians being in the minority.

Multicultural Malaysia, which enthusiastically celebrates Muslim, Christian, Chinese and Hindu festivals, is now festooned with tinsel, fake snow, and shopping centre tableaux of gingerbread houses and Christmas trees.

The population, which includes Muslim Malays and ethnic Chinese and Indians, is in the midst of a months-long series of festivals which begins with Ramadan and ends with Chinese New Year in February.

India’s Christian minority — which at 2.3 percent of the population is still a sizeable 24 million people — has celebrated Christmas openly in the majority Hindu nation for centuries.

In neighbouring Muslim Pakistan, however, the small Christian community in eastern Gojra is still reeling from August 1 riots, when an angry mob set upon Christian homes and churches, torching buildings and killing seven people.

Christians make up less than three percent of Pakistan’s 167 million population, and are generally impoverished and marginalised.

But Gojra’s local priest Father Shabir said he hoped Christmas would signal a new start for their small community.

“All our community is waiting for this first Christmas after the sad incident this August to start a new life. We are still sad, but we want to give a new message of hope on this Christmas,” he told AFP.

Christians in northern China are also facing a Christmas of fear after 10 local religious leaders were jailed in recent weeks and their new church shuttered amid a crackdown on unauthorised worship.

China officially provides for freedom of religion but in practice the ruling Communist Party restricts independent worship by forcing groups to register with the government.

Despite the problems Christians can face, businesses in China have latched onto Christmas as a fashionable, commercial venture as living standards have risen and contact with the West has increased.

Many shops in Beijing are decked out with decorations and trees, and some waitresses in Chinese restaurants have started wearing Santa hats — and, yes, Jingle Bells jangles nerves in the malls there too.


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Potatoes, algae replace oil in US company’s plastics

In World on December 22, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Frederic Scheer is biding his time, convinced that by 2013 the price of oil will be so high that his bio-plastics, made from vegetables and plants, will be highly marketable.

Frederic Scheer, head of the plastics manufacturer Cereplast, shows his finished plastic resin product at his factory complex in Los Angeles on December 15. (AFP Photo)

Scheer, 55, is the owner of Cereplast, a company that designs and makes sustainable plastics from starches found in tapioca, corn, wheat and potatoes.

He has believed for the past 20 years that the price of oil will eventually make petroleum-based plastics obsolete and clear the way for his alternative.

“The tipping point for us is 95 dollars a barrel,” he said. At that price “our product becomes cheaper” than traditional plastic.

“The day where we hit 95 dollars a barrel I think all of a sudden you’re going to see bio-plastics basically explode,” he said.

According to Scheer, once oil prices are consistently that high, which he expects to be the case around 2013, major chemical companies like Dupont and BASF will have no choice but to join him in bio-plastics.

By 2020, he expects the US market for the plastics to be worth 10 billion dollars, up from its current value of about a billion dollars.

The world market for traditional oil-based plastics is worth 2,500 billion dollars.

Cereplast, which has 25 employees in California and in Indiana, has accumulated a series of patents for the technology it uses to create the bio-plastics.

With annual sales of five million dollars, Cereplast manufactures resins that biodegrade naturally within three months for use in products including cups, plastic lids and packaging.

They also produce “hybrid” resins of polypropylene that are stronger and more durable, for use in cars or children’s toys.

“In using our resin, we basically inject up to 50 percent agricultural renewable resources… giving them a better carbon footprint,” said Scheer.

“Each time you create one kilo of traditional polypropylene, you create 3.15 kilos of carbon dioxide. When we create one kilo of bio-propylene, we create 1.40 kilos of carbon dioxide, so clearly you have a substantial saving with respect to greenhouse gases, creating a much better carbon footprint for the product,” he said.

Creating plastics that are biodegradable is key, Scheer says, because just 3.5 percent of polypropylene plastic in the United States gets recycled.

Around 70 percent of all plastic waste “ends up in landfills and stays there a very long time,” he said.

Americans go through 110 billion plastic or plastic-covered cups each year, using and discarding what the Food Packaging Institute describes as “astronomical numbers” of disposable containers.

“It takes between 70 to 100 million years to make fossil fuel and you are going to use your cup at Starbucks for 45 minutes max,” said Scheer.

But using potatoes and corn to produce billions of tonnes of bio-plastics might not be the most sustainable business plan either, as spikes in food prices in 2008 illustrated.

So Scheer is also looking at algae.

“Algae presents the same kind of physical and thermal property that we find in starches,” he said. “We can grow algae extremely fast, in very large quantities, at a very low price.”

Cereplast hopes to offer a plastic made with algae for commercial sale by the end of 2010 and is projecting its annual sales will have doubled by then.

The success is bittersweet for Scheer, who was born in Paris but has become known as the one of the “grandfathers” of the bio-plastics industry in the United States, rather than his home country.

“The United States are a land of opportunity for the entrepreneur,” he said. “I regret that France didn’t give me that kind of opportunity.”

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China ‘regrets’ WTO decision on film, music trade

In World on December 22, 2009 at 1:14 pm

China said Tuesday it “regrets” a decision by the World Trade Organization to reject its appeal against a ruling that orders Beijing to free up distribution of US films, music and books.

The WTO entrance

The WTO appeals body on Monday upheld its August ruling that China was breaching international trade commitments by blocking foreign-owned companies from acting as importers and wholesalers — a charge Beijing denies.

“China has conscientiously carried out its obligations under WTO rules in terms of access to the publishing market since its entry into the WTO,” the commerce ministry said in a statement on its website.

“China thinks cultural products feature commercial value as well as cultural value, which determines that the management of the trade of such products should be differentiated from that of general commodities.”

The commerce ministry said it “regrets” the ruling but did not say if China would comply with the appellate body’s decision. Beijing faces possible sanctions if it fails to free up imports.

The ruling, which is now final, affects distribution in China of foreign films for theatrical release, DVDs, music, books and journals.

China currently allows 20 foreign films to be shown in local movie theatres every year on a revenue-sharing basis, according to, a government linked website.

The United States hailed the decision as a “big win”.

“We are very pleased that the WTO has found against China’s import and distribution restrictions,” US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement.

“The Appellate Body’s findings are key to ensuring full market access in China for legitimate, high-quality entertainment products and the exporters and distributors of those products,” he said.

Kirk added that “we expect China to respond promptly to these findings and bring its measures into compliance.”

The United States and China have for months been locked in a tit-for-tat trade tussle involving a number of WTO complaints and retaliatory measures on an array of products, from chicken meat to US car products to Chinese tyres.

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