Rumour of fatal vitamin pills creates panic in Bangladesh

BANGLADESH - A vested quarter yesterday triggered panic across Bangladesh with a rumour that babies were falling sick, and that one had even died, from taking vitamin A capsules distributed by the government under a campaign.

As a result, many parents refrained from taking their children to vaccine centres, while many others rushed their babies, who had been given the capsules, to nearby health centres and hospitals.

Concerned government officials, however, said the capsules were completely safe, and urged people to have their children administered with vitamin A capsules to reduce the child mortality rate.

The rumour is believed to have originated from members of the Jamaat-e-Islami party and its student wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir, who have been commenting widely on the vitamin A campaign on social networks and through other means for the last couple of days.

Yesterday on the facebook page Basherkella Dubai, a post and image maintained that, "Two nephews of my friend became sick taking vitamin A capsules imported from India. So far 50 children have fallen sick in Noakhali while many others in different places of the country."

The admin attributed "Bangladesh Nationalist Party_Habiganj" as the source of the news.

On Monday night, the same page urged readers to "create awareness against the government's self-destructive activities".

However, Director of Institute of Public Health Nutrition (IPHN) Mohammad Ekhlasur Rahman told The Daily Star, "We do not have any information of any child becoming sick taking the capsule. This rumour has been spread to jeopardise the campaign that has achieved outstanding success over the last few years."

A press release of IPHN said the Vitamin A plus campaign was being conducted across the country using quality, germ-free and totally safe capsules tested in WHO-recognised international laboratories, reports news agency UNB.

As prescribed by the WHO, children aged between six and 12 months should be administered 100,000 units while those aged between one and five years 200,000 units of vitamin A capsules.

Excessive consumption of vitamin A, however, may cause vomiting or bulging fontanelle, but it would not cause severe harm to children, said Rahman, adding that the effects would automatically ease within a day or two.

As for yesterday's panic strike, he said, "Children may have caught seasonal diseases like cold or fever. We are sure that it is not related to the capsules."

Meanwhile, at least 125 children, aged between six months and five years, were rushed for check ups to Adhunik Sadar Hospital in Khagrachhari yesterday afternoon thanks to the rumours.

Most of the parents complained that their children were feeling feverish and weak, and vomiting. They were prescribed rest.

In Chittagong as well, several hundred panic-stricken parents took their children to health centres and hospitals. These included a group of around 60 wielding sticks who rushed to the Katgar health complex, but were eventually dispersed, said Alamgir Hossain, officer-in-charge of Patenga Police Station.

Around 250 million children were supposed to be administered vitamin A capsules under this round of the campaign, said news reports.