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The Vietnam News

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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 analysis.

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 of Vietnam.
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 Vietnamese.

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 conclusive.
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.