Obesity Among Vietnamese Rises Even as They Search for Healthful Food

There’s a familiar trend of fast food chains like KFC and Burger King entering developing countries, where citizens start to see obesity rates increase amid all the new junk food options.This is not that story, at least in Vietnam. The junk food trend has certainly come to Vietnam already, but now there’s an even newer trend in the country, and it’s the definition of irony:  more Vietnamese citizens are looking for food products that are healthful — only to end up with products that are anything but that.A Vietnam food puzzleSugar is the ingredient that perhaps best exemplifies this irony. The problem is not that Vietnamese are eating large amounts of candy and ice cream, though some are doing that. Instead, they’re buying products like fruit juices and yogurt, not realizing that all the added sugar may outweigh the health benefits of the fruit. Products are packaged in labels that appeal to citizens’ health goals.This is part of a broader change across Vietnam, where companies are selling more ready-to-eat meals and processed foods to citizens who used to buy vegetables and eggs directly from farms. The change is leading to obvious business opportunities. For instance, the Nutifood Nutrition Food Joint Stock Company recently got an expected debt rating of B+ from Fitch Ratings, which predicts the company will profit from more Vietnamese buying health foods.Fast food chains like McDonald’s are growing in Vietnam. (H. Nguyen/VOA)“The government has introduced initiatives to address malnutrition and stunting, whose levels remain high by global standards,” Fitch Ratings said in an explanation of its expected rating. “Fitch also expects a high birth-rate and consumers increasingly seeking convenience with nutrition will continue to drive demand for Nutifood’s products, particularly its ready-to-drink products.”Moderation is the goalMilk and related products sold by Nutifood and its competitors highlight the balance that is hard to strike in the national diet. Vietnam for years encouraged parents to give their children milk so the next generation would be taller and have stronger bones. Today however, obesity is a bigger problem than undernourishment, having increased 38 percent from 2010 to 2014 — the highest in Southeast Asia. That’s why Vietnam does not use the term “undernourished” but “malnourished” to describe its whole range of nutritional issues.In other areas there’s low awareness of dietary risks, such as the overreliance on MSG and salt, usually in the form of fish sauce and soy sauce, two very popular ingredients in Vietnamese food. Sugar, however, is the more recent trend. Companies were able to influence nutritional recommendations for decades, by focusing on fat rather than sugar as a source of health complications. So Vietnamese have added sweeteners to their food and drink without a second thought. Go to a cafe, and the waiter will automatically put sugar in an order of coffee or mango juice unless the customer says otherwise. In nearby Indonesia citizens like to joke that they have their sugar with some tea, rather than have tea with sugar. Something similar could be said of Vietnam.Vietnamese citizens are increasingly replacing their fruit with juice, not realizing that all the added sugar contained in juices could outweigh health benefits. (H. Nguyen/VOA)People have many choicesCompanies like Pepsi and McDonald’s have tried to put the focus on exercise, rather than diet, for good health. Naturally active lifestyles are decreasing in Vietnam, as people move from the countryside to the cities, and from hard labor to office jobs. Citizens often get on their motorbikes to drive just one block, and walking in the cities, with 100-degree weather and few sidewalks, is hard. On top of that, citizens use new Uber-like services to have drinks or meals delivered. Researchers agree exercise and diet are both important, but the latter has a bigger impact on health.“Vietnamese consumers care about their health more than ever,” Louise Hawley, managing director of Nielsen Vietnam, said.That makes awareness all the more important. It is one thing to eat unhealthful food, while not caring about the effects. It is quite another thing to eat unhealthful food, however, because one thinks it’s nutritional.The growing health concern in Vietnam has to do with not just nutrition, but also air pollution, water quality, and clean supply chains. A Nielsen survey showed health became the top concern of Vietnamese citizens in the second quarter, surpassing job security, cost of living, and work-life balance. “With the current situation relating to pollution and increased consumer awareness,” Hawley said, “health is expected to continue to be a top concern of Vietnamese consumers in the third quarter of 2019.” 


Arctic Station Perfectly Placed to Collect Polar Satellite Data

Thousands of satellites orbit the Earth for a multitude of purposes. Some circle the planet to check on the health of the swirling blue orb below.  Reaching the perfect place to collect that information can mean an arduous and frigid journey back on Earth.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi bundles-up tight for this story from the Arctic Circle.


Paris Zoo Unveils Mysterious Bright Yellow ‘Blob’

The Paris Zoo is welcoming a new occupant — the “blob.”  This bright yellow, unicellular, brainless organism, exists all over the world and can move, eat, and even solve problems. This is the first time in the world that it has been presented to the public. VOA’s Jim Randle has our story.


Drug Companies Reach $215 Million Settlement in US Opioid Case

A major pharmaceutical company and three of the biggest drug distributors in the U.S. have reached a $260 million settlement with two counties in Ohio to avoid a trial over their role in the deadly opioid addiction crisis gripping America.The deal, struck Monday, came just hours before the opening arguments in a court in Cleveland, Ohio. The case has been viewed as a harbinger for similar lawsuits filed by more than  2,700 local and state governments across the country in hopes of recouping damages from the crisis.Drug distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen will pay $215 million in reparations. Israeli drug manufacturer Teva will pay $20 million in cash and also contribute $25 million worth of Suboxone, used to treat opioid addiction.”People can’t lose sight of the fact that the counties got a very good deal for themselves, but we also set an important national benchmark for the others,” said Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer for Cuyahoga County.Cuyahoga and Summit counties had brought the lawsuit that accused the four companies of fueling a nationwide opioid crisis.According to U.S. government data, opioids have led to some 400,000 overdose deaths between 1997 and 2017.Lawyers say the settlement will provide local governments with the finances needed to establish opioid-recovery programs.Attempts to reach a nationwide settlement broke down last week after cities and counties suing the drug companies rejected an offer of $48 billion in cash, treatment drugs and services.


In Congo, an Ebola Survivor With a Motorbike Helps Ease Fear

When Germain Kalubenge gets a request for a ride on his motorcycle, it can be a matter of life or death. The 23-year-old is a survivor of the Ebola virus and often is the only driver his community trusts to help if someone suspects they are infected.”I wake up every day at 5 in the morning to … wait for calls from suspected Ebola cases who do not like to take an ambulance,” he said. “In the community they are afraid of ambulances. They believe that in an ambulance, doctors will give them toxic injections and they will die before arriving at the hospital.”FILE – Motorcycle taxi driver Germain Kalubenge is photographed at an Ebola transit center where potential cases are evaluated, in Beni, Congo, Aug. 22, 2019.Kalubenge is a rare motorcycle taxi driver who is also an Ebola survivor in eastern Congo, making him a welcome collaborator for health workers who have faced deep community mistrust during the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. More than 2,000 people have died since August of last year, and the World Health Organization last week said the outbreak still warrants being classified as a global emergency, even as the number of confirmed cases has slowed.This is the first time Ebola has been confirmed in this part of Congo, and rumors quickly spread in Beni, an early epicenter of the outbreak, that the virus had been imported to kill the population. The community has been traumatized by years of deadly rebel attacks and is wary of authorities, blaming them for the insecurity that has killed nearly 2,000 people since late 2014.Gaining people’s trust has been a constant challenge for health workers.Imagine that you are running a fever and you see a dozen jeeps carrying doctors wearing head-to-toe protective gear, said Muhindo Soli, a young man who was arrested earlier this year for throwing stones at Ebola responders’ vehicles. “That would scare me,” he said, adding that some young people refuse to let patients be taken away.FILE – A woman whose 5-year-old daughter was ill with her in an Ebola transit center where potential cases are evaluated, after being transported there by motorcycle taxi driver Germain Kalubenge, in Beni, Congo, Aug. 22, 2019.Soli called on Ebola responders to stop working with military and police escorts, which he said only heightens tensions: “One wonders why the people who come to treat us come with soldiers?”Dr. Muhindo Muyisa, who leads the response to Ebola alerts in Beni, said they have received more than 150 alerts daily about potential cases. They have intervened more than 90% of the time, sending an ambulance or other vehicle, when people refuse to go to centers where testing is done for the virus, Muyisa said.
 
Kalubenge, who as a survivor is immune to Ebola, saw the community resistance and decided to help. At times he has taken about 10 people a day to the Ebola centers after surviving the virus last year.
 
He and his motorcycle are sprayed with chlorine each time he arrives.FILE – Motorcycle taxi driver Germain Kalubenge pours chlorinated water on his motorcycle after taking a suspected case of Ebola to an Ebola transit center where potential cases are evaluated, in Beni, Congo, Aug. 22, 2019.One day in August, he received a call from a parent whose 5-year-old had a fever and was vomiting. His first step was to convince the mother to allow her child to go to the center for testing. The symptoms were similar to other diseases common in the area such as malaria, which can add to people’s hesitation about Ebola. In the end, the child was found to have malaria.Kalubenge makes sure to tell potential patients his own Ebola story and says they will only get better if they go to a center to be checked.
 
Riding with him draws far less attention than an ambulance would. People like to ride a motorcycle “to avoid neighbors’ curiosity,” he said.Kalubenge is the only good link between the Ebola centers and the population, said Beni resident Sammy Misonia, who met the driver during a community question-and-answer session with Ebola survivors.”There are too many rumors that make people afraid to go,” Misonia said. “With this initiative, people will always agree to go because we now see someone who has come out of the treatment center alive.”Kalubenge said he is happy to help give people hope — even when some riders vomit on him during the journey.”People need to know that doctors treat well, and I was well cared for,” he said. “Ebola is not the end of life. After Ebola, there is life.”
 


Drug Companies Reach Settlement as Opioid Trial Set to Begin

Four drug companies reached a last-minute legal settlement over their role in the opioid addiction epidemic, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.Drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp and Israel-based drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd will announce the settlement on Monday, according to the report.It was unclear if the fifth defendant, pharmacy chain operator Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc, had reached a settlement with the two Ohio counties that were the plaintiffs in the trial set to begin Monday morning.


Committee Pitches Concept to Settle all Opioid Lawsuits

A committee guiding OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy has suggested other drugmakers, distributors and pharmacy chains use Purdue’s bankruptcy proceedings to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits seeking to hold the drug industry accountable for the national opioid crisis.The committee of unsecured creditors said in a letter sent Sunday to the parties and obtained by The Associated Press that the country “is in the grips of a crisis that must be addressed, and that doing so may require creative approaches.”It’s calling for all the companies to put money into a fund in exchange for having all their lawsuits resolved.The committee includes victims of the opioid crisis plus a medical center, a health insurer, a prescription benefit management company, the manufacturer of an addiction treatment drug and a pension insurer. It says that the concept may not be feasible but invited further discussion. It does not give a size of contributions from the company.The same committee has been aggressive in Purdue’s bankruptcy, saying it would support pausing litigation against members of the Sackler family who own Purdue in exchange for a $200 million fund from the company to help fight the opioid crisis.Paul Hanly, a lead lawyer for local governments in the lawsuits, said in a text message Sunday evening that he’d heard about the mass settlement idea, calling it “most unlikely.”The proposal comes as narrower talks have not resulted in a settlement. Opening statements are to be held Monday in the first federal trial over the crisis. The lawsuit deals with claims from the Ohio counties of Cuyahoga and Summit against a half-dozen companies. More than 2,000 other state and local governments plus Native American tribes, hospitals and other groups have made similar claims.There have been talks aimed at settling all claims against the drugmakers Johnson & Johnson and Teva and the distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson ahead of the trial. One proposal called for resolving claims against them nationally in exchange for cash and addiction treatment drugs valued at a total of $48 billion over time.The committee’s proposal went to those five companies plus nine others that face lawsuits.Opioids, including both prescription painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin and illicitly made fentanyl, have been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000.


Report: Climate Change, Pollution Threaten New Zealand’s Marine Environment

Climate change, pollution and fishing are causing irreversible damage to New Zealand’s marine environment and putting many birds and mammals at risk of extinction, according to a new report from the nation’s Ministry for the Environment. The report said New Zealand’s coastline, which stretches for about 15,000 kilometers, is also under increasing pressure from development and shipping. Agriculture, forestry and urbanization are increasing the amount of sediment, chemicals and plastics flowing into the oceans, and contaminating the coastline, it said. The report said 90 percent of the country’s seabirds and about a quarter of its marine mammals are threatened with extinction, and that 16 percent of New Zealand’s fish stocks had been overfished.  
 
“The sea is a receiving environment for what happens on the land, so our activities on land from the mountains to the sea are having an impact on what we are seeing in the marine environment; growing cities, forestry, agriculture — all delivering increasing amounts of sedimentation,” said Vicky Robertson, New Zealand’s secretary for the environment. Warmer seas
 
The report also confirmed that New Zealand’s sea temperature had risen and was consistent with the global average. It also found sea levels were rising faster than before. 
 
There was a warning, too, that New Zealand could expect more frequent marine heat waves, similar to those in 2017 and 2018, and ocean acidification. 
 
For the first time, data from citizen scientists were used in the government report. Community groups were instructed about how to collect robust data. 
 
The next official marine environment report is due in three years. 
 
New Zealand is a grouping of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, southeast of Australia. It has a population of 4.5 million people. 


Kenya Starts Vaccinating Girls Against Human Papilloma Virus

Kenyan authorities have begun a mass vaccination of girls against the human papilloma virus, HPV, which causes cervical cancer. According to the World Health Organization, the East Africa region has the highest rate of cervical cancer in the world.Kenya officially launched its HPV vaccination program Friday in the coastal town of Mombasa.The vaccine will be administered free to all 10-year-old girls as part of the country’s routine immunization schedule. Girls will get the vaccine in two doses, six months apart.FILE – Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks during a press conference in Nairobi, July 1, 2019.President Uhuru Kenyatta termed the vaccine roll-out a major milestone in the fight against non-communicable diseases.”Access to the HPV vaccine by our girls will lead to the reduction of number of new cervical cancer cases and secure lives of our daughters and sisters,” he said. “This means that our young women who are critical to the future of our nation will be protected from early deaths.”Kenya’s Ministry of Health says the vaccinations will cost about $7.7 million this year.Dr. Collins Tabu, head of the National Vaccine Immunization Program in Kenya, touted the benefits of the program in a talk with reporters.”The introduction of HPV vaccine within our setup has potential to cut back the burden of cervical cancer by close to 70 percent,” Tabu said. “If we achieve a good enough coverage, of about 80 percent.”He said at least seven women die every day through cervical cancer in Kenya.”The human papilloma virus, the most common sexually transmitted disease with a prevalence of close to 50 percent within our borders, is the primary cause of more than 99 percent of all of the cervical cancers. There is a direct link, as we know today,” he said.At least 115 other countries routinely administer the vaccine, including Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. Tabu said because of the vaccine, Rwanda has nearly eliminated cervical cancer.Kenya has moved more slowly, possibly because of debates around the safety of vaccines.  Earlier this decade, the Catholic Church in Kenya called for a boycott of a polio vaccination drive.  “It’s a bit embarrassing that Kenya may be the last or second last East African country to introduce the vaccine that is supposed to protect our girls against cervical cancer,” Tabu said. During Friday’s launch, Kenyatta dismissed claims the HPV vaccine might be unsafe, telling the crowd, “Let us not fight science.”
 


World’s First Female Spacewalking Team Makes History

 The world’s first female spacewalking team made history high above Earth on Friday, floating out of the International Space Station to fix a broken part of the power network.
 
As NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir emerged one by one, it marked the first time in a half-century of spacewalking that a woman floated out without a male crewmate.LIVE NOW: Tune in to watch the first #AllWomanSpacewalk in human history! 👩🏻‍🚀 Starting at approximately 7:50am ET, @Astro_Christina & @Astro_Jessica venture into the vacuum of space to replace a failed power controller. Watch: https://t.co/2SIb9YXlRh— NASA (@NASA) October 18, 2019 
America’s first female spacewalker from 35 years ago, Kathy Sullivan, was delighted. She said It’s good to finally have enough women in the astronaut corps and trained for spacewalking for this to happen.NASA leaders – along with women and others around the world – cheered Koch and Meir on. At the same time, many noted that this will hopefully become routine in the future.
 
“We’ve got qualified women running the control, running space centers, commanding the station, commanding spaceships and doing spacewalks,” Sullivan told The Associated Press earlier this week. “And golly, gee whiz, every now and then there’s more than one woman in the same place.”
 
Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a three-time spacewalker who watched from Mission Control, added: “Hopefully, this will now be considered normal.”
 In this photo released by NASA on Oct. 17, 2019, U.S. astronauts Jessica Meir, left, and Christina Koch pose for a photo in the International Space Station.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine watched the big event unfold from NASA headquarters in Washington.
 
“We have the right people doing the right job at the right time,”he said. “They are an inspiration to people all over the world including me. And we’re very excited to get this mission underway.”
 
NASA originally wanted to conduct an all-female spacewalk last spring, but did not have enough medium-size suits ready to go. Koch and Meir were supposed to install more new batteries in a spacewalk next week, but had to venture out three days earlier to deal with an equipment failure that occurred over the weekend. They need to replace an old battery charger for one of the three new batteries that was installed last week by Koch and Andrew Morgan.
 
“Jessica and Christina, we are so proud of you. You’re going to do great today,” Morgan radioed from inside as the women exited the hatch.
 
Meir, making her spacewalking debut, became the 228th person in the world to conduct a spacewalk and the 15th woman.
 
It was the fourth spacewalk for Koch, who is seven months into an 11-month mission that will be the longest ever by a woman.