FORTY years after the end of the Vietnam War this is a country which should be rising back to its feet.
Instead it is crippled by the effects of Agent Orange, a chemical sprayed during combat, stripping leaves off trees to remove enemy cover.
Its contaminant, dioxin — now regarded as one of the most toxic chemicals known to man — remains in Vietnam’s ecosystem, in the soil and in the fish people eat from rivers.
Nearly 4.8 million Vietnamese people have been exposed, causing 400,000 deaths; the associated illnesses include cancers, birth defects, skin disorders, auto-immune diseases, liver disorders, psychosocial effects, neurological defects and gastrointestinal diseases.
According to the Red Cross of Vietnam, up to one million people are currently disabled or have health problems due to Agent Orange, 100,000 of which are children.
In Ho Chi Minh City’s Go Vap orphanage, five-month-old Hong gazes serenely from her metal-barred cot, empty, save for a soft yellow teddy bear watching over her.
From her head grows a huge veiny mass — a rare neural tube defect known as encephalocele, which research suggests could be caused by Agent Orange exposure.
Without successful surgery, Hong’s future is bleak. She could suffer from paralysis of the limbs, vision impairment, mental disability and seizures.