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Clean toilets, hand washing facilities needed to save lives in rural Viet Nam

Ha Noi, 25 March, 2008 – Lack of toilets and hand washing facilities in homes and schools is seriously affecting children’s health in rural Vietnam, the United Nations said on Tuesday. A new national survey on sanitation and hygiene by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) concludes that the situation is dire and needs immediate attention to ensure the country remains on a path of social, economic and health development.

While Viet Nam has made significant progress over the past few decades in providing safe water for rural communities, the quality of sanitary facilities in households, schools and public areas, and a lack of safe hygiene behaviours remain issues of great concern. Some 88 percent of rural schools do not have latrines that meet the standards set by the Ministry of Health, and students in more than a quarter of rural schools have to defecate in forests, gardens, fields or along beaches, streams and rivers – creating health risks and environmental problems.

This is also a problem in rural homes, where more than 80 percent of people – or 50 million Vietnamese, including 18 million children – do not have access to latrines that meet the Government’s requirements. As a result, bacteria, viruses and parasites travel via water, soil, food and unwashed hands to contaminate everything in their path, causing diarrhoeal diseases such as dysentery and cholera, as well as parasitic infections, worm infestations and trachoma. Diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections are the two leading causes of death and illness of children under the age of five in Viet Nam, and nearly half of all Vietnamese children suffer from worm-related illnesses associated with poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation.

“Poor sanitation has a bad impact on people’s health, especially on the development of children. This has not only reduced the income of rural people - as they have to pay for the medical treatment - but also has increased the State’s expenditures on health services,” said Dr. Nguyen Huy Nga, Director of the MOH’s Department of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health.

The health benefits of good hygiene practices are clear and widely acknowledged. Washing hands with soap, for example, can reduce diarrhoea cases by nearly half and decrease the incidence of respiratory infections. Yet only 12 percent of rural Vietnamese wash their hands with soap before meals and 16 percent after defecation. Investments in sanitation and hygiene also generate economic benefits; every dollar spent on improving sanitation saves over nine USD in health, education and other social and economic development costs.

Poor sanitation conditions and unsafe hygiene practices is affecting Viet Nam’s progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially the MDG 7 which aims to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Sanitation and hygiene are also critical prerequisites for the MDGs related to child and maternal mortality, child undernutrition, and universal primary education.

“To a large extent, sustained progress in health, nutrition and education depends upon improvements in sanitation and hygiene. The beneficial effect of immunizing a child, for example, is entirely lost if that child dies of a diarrhoeal disease due to poor sanitation”, said UN Resident Coordinator John Hendra. “The current trends are not sufficient for Viet Nam to achieve MDG #7 or its national sanitation targets,” he added.

Viet Nam’s aim is for 70 percent of households and 100 percent of schools to have hygienic sanitation facilities by 2010. The nearly 100 representatives of line ministries, donors, and national and international organizations gathered at the workshop to launch the National Baseline Survey on Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Situation in Viet Nam and to support the International Year of Sanitation 2008 identified three key strategies that need to be implemented in order to achieve these goals. First, it is necessary to invest more human and financial resources in hygiene education and the construction, operation and maintenance of sanitation facilities, especially in schools. Second, the construction of all sanitation facilities should comply with the Ministry of Health’s standard (Decision 08/2005/QD-BYT), which includes requirements for isolating untreated human faeces, killing disease vectors in human faeces and preventing environmental pollution. Finally, it is crucial to continue efforts to raise community awareness to discourage unhygienic practices and encourage good sanitation.

“It is time to address this challenge with renewed urgency, creativity, resources and commitment.  We must start by recognizing that sanitation is no longer simply a private concern. It affects all of us, and overcoming this challenge will require the cooperation of all members of society, from parents, schools and communities, to local and national government agencies and international organizations,” Mr. Hendra urged.

Viet Nam has had a rural water supply and sanitation strategy since 1998, and the National Target Programme on Rural Water Supply and Sanitation has been in place for eight years. The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Partnership, made up of relevant ministries and nearly 20 international organizations, has been active since 2006 to improve the coordination of efforts to improve the national water and sanitation situation.

Currently the Government and a group of donors including UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank are increasing support for sanitation, hygiene and water supply improvements. This includes assistance for developing appropriate policies, standards and guidelines on sanitation, hygiene, and water quality; developing local capacity in technical and managerial knowledge and skills; and supporting the implementation of the National Target Program (phase 2) and a plan of action for the International Year of Sanitation 2008.

For more information, please contact:

  • Ms. Caroline den Dulk, UN Communications, Tel: 84-4-942-5715, Mob: 84-91-239-1053, Email:
  • Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong, UN Communication Office, Tel: 8224383 ext 118; Email:

The summary of the report is available online at:, and 




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