The Human Health Impact of Agent Orange
There is a great need of medical care and social services for those adults in Vietnam who have cancers, neurological disorders, and other conditions that may be related to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin. However, it is the concern for those children with birth defects and other disabilities that are believed to be associated with their parent’s or grandparent’s exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin that has received the most attention in Vietnam and around the world. Identifying these children on an individual level with scientific certainty is not possible.
Instead, the tendency is to identify those children with birth defects or disabilities whose parents or grandparents have a history of being exposed to Agent Orange/dioxin and where there is no other family history of the condition as being an “Agent Orange Victim.” Therefore, it is a social classification rather than a scientific classification. Those identified as being affected by dioxin for the most part are those children and young adults with severe and multiple disabilities including mobility, speech and cognitive disabilities. They are usually those unable to go to school, unable to work and who are in need of round-the-clock care.
It is the child whose condition is believed to be causes by Agent Orange that faces the greatest medical and educational challenges and whose needs for the most part are not yet being met
The Vietnam Household Living Standard Survey in 2006 estimates that 15.3 % of the population of Vietnam have difficulty or extreme difficulty in the areas of hearing, seeing, cognition, walking, self-care or communicating, with about 4 % of children aged 5-17 having difficulties in these areas.
UNICEF-Viet Nam estimates that there are 1.2 million Vietnamese children (out of the 30.5 million Vietnamese under 18) with disabilities. In general, there are higher rates of children believed to be affected by Agent Orange in the areas of the country that were more heavily sprayed as well as in areas where there are current dioxin hotspots. Whether this is
Whereas the US Institute of Medicine has found only spina bifida and anencephaly to be associated with paternal exposure to dioxin, the Vietnamese researchers have found in studies of both exposed males and females that there is an increased risk of abnormal birth outcomes, including infertility, miscarriages, still births, and birth defects, compared to those who were not exposed. Among the birth defects, spina bifida, hydrocephaly, malformations of the extremities, musculature issues, developmental disabilities, congenital heart defects and cleft-palate are found. There are also higher rates of children with multiple disabilities among exposed populations. Researchers found that for
those families with children with disabilities, the rate of disability decreased as they had more children. Vietnamese researchers have also found that there are higher rates of birth defects in the grandchildren of exposed population compared to those who were not exposed.
“Vietnam is home to a disproportionately large number of disabled children – including many affected by exposure to chemicals left over from the spraying of Agent Orange.”
– Frank Susa, US Fund for UNICEF, 2008.
Stills from “The Last Ghost of War” by Janet Gardner (2008). More information.
The Second Generation.
Photo: James Nachtwey
By Arnold Schecter. Dioxins and Health offers readers quick access to essential information about dioxins and related compounds written in clear, simple language.