Effective public information is needed to prevent the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease

Publié: 25 avril 2012 16:27 CET

By Deepinder Janeja in Hanoi

As cases of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) continue to rise to record levels this year in Viet Nam, the Red Cross is gearing up for a widespread public education campaign on how to prevent the disease through better hygiene. However, early assessments indicate the campaign’s messages need to be very specific, taking into account local perceptions and practices.

The campaign will be conducted with the support of almost 5,400 community volunteers trained by the Red Cross. They will target more than 752,255 people in 13 provinces, two in central Viet Nam and 11 in the south. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an emergency appeal for 758,416 Swiss francs ($US829,900) in April to support the campaign.

According to the Viet Nam Ministry of Health, more than 28,000 cases of HFMD have been reported in the first 14 weeks of this year, approximately 10 times the number of cases for the same time last year. 18 children have died from the disease this year.

The Deputy of Provincial Preventive Medicine in Long An province, Dr Le Thi Kim Oanh, says most cases this year are among children aged three and under. National health statistics bear this out. Younger children are more vulnerable than older children because they are cared for at home, whereas older children attending schools or pre-school centres are instructed by their teachers to regularly wash their hands.

The Viet Nam Red Cross has deployed its national disaster response team in 20 districts of eight of the hardest-hit provinces to carry out urgent assessments and develop health education strategies. At the same time, the team is collaborating with the local authorities to avoid duplication of measures.

Assessments so far indicate that the key issue is a lack of awareness about how to  prevent the disease through rigorous hygiene practices. “We knew about the disease from the TV and local health officials. So, we brought our son to the hospital when he had high fever. I know that HFMD can be treated, but I didn’t know how I could prevent my child from contracting it,” says a mother whose 2-year-old has HFMD.

Another issue is that people’s perceptions about hygiene practices vary. One of the major challenges is to convince people of the need to wash their hands several times a day and to use soap. “We wash hands at home and maintain hygiene in our own way. Yet, my boy has the disease,” says a perplexed mother of a 2-month-old boy with HFMD.

The Director of the Provincial Centre for Health Education and Communication in Long An, Dr Dung says: “Adults must understand that they need to wash their hands as regularly as the children. Many of them think that, as a preventive measure, washing the child’s hands is enough.”

The Viet Nam Red Cross’s new prevention campaign – one was also conducted last year – will emphasise the need for good hygiene for every member of the family, including advice on critical times when they should wash their hands.

At the same time, the organization is conducting a survey to measure the current knowledge and attitudes about HFMD and hygiene practices. The findings will inform the new campaign which includes group discussions and house-to-house visits to vulnerable families about the disease, its prevention and action to be taken when symptoms are detected.