US agent orange study in Vietnam moves up a gear
HANOI - U.S. research
into the impact on Vietnamese from
the spraying of chemical defoliants
during the Vietnam War received a
boost Monday when blood samples
left the country for international
American physician Arnold Schecter
flew out of Hanoi late Monday with
blood samples from people
suspected of having been exposed to
the chemical defoliant Agent Orange
-- the first such batch ever taken out
Schecter, a world authority on Agent
Orange and who has studied its
impact on Vietnamese since 1984,
said transfer of the samples could
open the way for U.S. government
funding of $2-6 million each year to
help research in Vietnam.
``I think this is a major milestone
because the research which started
decades ago between Americans
and Vietnamese on Agent Orange
stopped dead in its tracks in 1995,''
Schecter told Reuters Television
before leaving for Germany, where
the analysis will be conducted.
In 1995, Schecter was part of a U.S.
delegation that had blood samples
and documents confiscated by
Vietnamese officials just before
leaving the country. Two years later
the documents were returned and
officials offered to give back the
samples, but Schecter said they
would have been useless by then.
Schecter, who has worked with local
doctors since March, said he would
report to the U.S. Congress late this
week that the current samples had
been carried out of Vietnam, a
requirement needed to unlock the
U.S. government funding.
Official U.S. funding for Agent
Orange research in Vietnam would
be a first and allow intensive study of
an issue that remains a sore point in
Hanoi's ties with Washington, its
enemy during the Vietnam War that
ended in 1975.
The two sides normalized relations
20 years later.
High-quality studies might also shed
light on the overall impact Agent
Orange has had on a generation of
During the Vietnam War, chemical
defoliants were sprayed all over the
country to stop infiltration by
communist forces using jungle cover
during operations. Agent Orange,
containing highly toxic dioxins, was
the best known of these compounds.
Across Vietnam, rehabilitation
centers care for suspected victims,
including deformed and retarded
children of people believed to have
been exposed to Agent Orange.
Indeed, Hanoi says large numbers of
people have suffered from Agent
Orange, but Schecter believes the
thoroughness of local studies meant
their findings were not always
Attempts by Hanoi to win
compensation from the United States
have stalled, with Washington saying
the issue needed more study.
Schecter said the blood samples
taken out of Vietnam Monday would
be carefully analyzed for dioxins,
allowing scientists to determine
precise health effects on people.
Crippling birth defects seen across
Vietnam should not be blamed
wholesale on Agent Orange, and
may be due to conditions such as
polio, encephalitis and cerebral
palsy, Schecter said.
``The malformed children have
become symbolic of what Agent
Orange could have done... We have
a very long way to go to determine
the cause of most of those
malformations,'' he said.
``It appears most of the
malformations seen in Vietnamese
children are almost certainly not from
dioxin or Agent Orange.
``But...it's a very sensitive issue
politically in the United States and
also in Vietnam,'' he said.
Reuters - July 6, 1999.