The Vietnamese government is turning to a "detoxification" method developed by the founder of the Church of Scientology to treat victims of Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant the U.S. military used during the Vietnam War.
According to local media reports, 24 patients from the central city of Da Nang were admitted to the Hanoi 103 Military Hospital last week to begin a free, month-long treatment to rid the body of dioxins that have been linked to birth defects, cancers and other diseases.
The "Hubbard Method," named after L. Ron Hubbard, requires taking vitamins and minerals, exercising and sweating in saunas. Scientologists have used it to treat alcoholism and drug addiction in the past, and offered similar services to New York City's first responders who were exposed to toxins in the 9/11 terror attacks.
Vietnam is the first country to apply the method on Agent Orange victims, according to Hoang Manh An, the director of the hospital carrying out the detoxification.
"I hope my wife and I will recover completely and will not suffer after-effects to pass on to my descendants," Nguyen Dai Sang, one of the patients, told the Viet Nam News Daily.
American troops doused the jungles of Southeast Asia with 20 million gallons of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War to deny Vietcong fighters and North Vietnamese troops cover. The herbicides contaminated about 5 million acres of forest, which is roughly the size of Massachusetts.
The U.S. launched its first major effort to clean up the soil at a former air base in Da Nang last month, more than 40 years later, but spokesman Christopher Hodges at the American Embassy in Hanoi said the U.S. had not provided any funding for detoxification programs in Vietnam.
"We are not aware of any safe, effective detoxification treatment for people with dioxin in body tissues," Hodges said in a statement. "The best way to reduce health risks associated with dioxin is to prevent human exposure to dioxin, and the best way to do that is to clean up areas where dioxin exists in the environment at potentially hazardous levels."