Wastewater from provincial hospitals in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta has been discharged directly into local rivers for a long time, causing serious pollution, local reports say.
Nguyen Thi Anh lives in a house on the banks of the Mo Cay River, but she is scared now to use the river water for bathing and washing clothes.
"Children who bathe in the river have itches and scabies. The river has been receiving untreated wastewater from the General Hospital in Cu Lao Minh," Anh told the Sai Gon Tiep Thi newspaper.
A resident of Tan Loc Hamlet in Ben Tre Province's Mo Cay Nam District said it was easy to see the stream of black wastewater in Mo Cay River during low tide.
"We have complained several times to the authorities about the General Hospital discharging untreated wastewater into the river, but no action has been taken," said Le Van Danh, acting chairman of the Tan Hoi People's Committee.
"The hospital has a wastewater treatment system but it has been broken down for many years," said Dr Le Quang Trung.
According to Nguyen Ba Minh, director of the Ben Tre Province's Department of Health, there is no hospital in the province that has a wastewater treatment system, including the Nguyen Dinh Chieu General Hospital.
Le Thanh Liem, Minh's counterpart in Long An Province, said none of the 13 district-level hospitals in the region have wastewater treatment systems.
Wastewater treatment systems at all provincial-level hospitals were out of order, he added.
Officials from public health sector in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta admitted that hospitals in the region did not treat the wastewater thoroughly before discharging it into the natural environment.
Tests on river water around hospitals showed heavy pollution with high levels of the E.coli bacteria that causes the deadly cholera disease, they added.
Tran Minh Thuan, a Vinh Long official, said the province was preparing projects to rebuild district and provincial-level hospitals.
"We will give priority to wastewater treatment systems," Thuan said.
The Ben Tre Public Health Department had proposed to the provincial People's Committee for the approval of the disbursement of VND15 billion (US$760,000) to build wastewater treatment systems for the Cu Lao Minh, Giong Trom and Binh Dai hospitals, Minh said.
Other hospital officials have said they expect to invest in wastewater treatment systems next year.
"It costs VND5 billion ($256,000) to build a wastewater treatment system for a district-level hospital, and VND15 billion ($760,000) for a provincial-level hospital.
"But we cannot do anything if they say the provincial budget does not have enough money," Minh said.
Liem said Long An Province needed VND60 billion to build wastewater treatment systems for all its hospitals, clinics and medical laboratories.
"If we have the money, we will solve the issue of hospital wastewater in just one year," Liem said.
The World Bank recently agreed to support provincial health departments nationwide in building hospital wastewater treatment systems with a loan of $150 million.
The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Planning and Investment have suggested that the World Bank invest this money in facilities for the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta alone.
The suggestion has not been accepted so far, leaving hospital wastewater an untreated, unsolved problem that pollutes local rivers and waterways.
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