HIV now mainly transmitted through sex in Vietnam: report

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Nearly three-fourths of people testing positive for HIV in Vietnam over the past four years contracted the virus through sex, according to the latest report from the Health Ministry.

Seventy-six percent of new patients recorded annually in the Mekong Delta and over 60 percent in the central region contracted the virus through sexual contact, VnExpress quoted the ministry's findings reported at a conference on Vietnam's efforts to fight HIV and AIDS between 2008 and 2012 as saying.

The proportion of people contracting HIV through sex is increasing; previously the virus was most commonly transmitted in Vietnam via direct blood contact, often needles shared by drug users, the ministry said.

The trend poses the risk that will HIV become more widespread among the general population, as opposed to primarily intravenous drug users, it warned.

As of June 30, more than 200,000 people were reported to be living with HIV, including 58,000 who have reached the AIDS stage of the illness, Deputy Health Ministry Nguyen Thanh Long said. Nearly 62,000 others have died from AIDS, he added.

In response to the ministry's report, Deborah Chatsis, Canadian Ambassador to Vietnam and President of the HIV/AIDS Prevention Coordination Group, told the conference that HIV/AIDS problem will not be solved by punishing drug addicts and prostitutes.

The most important thing is to educate those high risk groups about HIV/AIDS prevention, she stressed.

However, Long said the greatest difficulty that is facing Vietnam in its fight against HIV/AIDS is the discrimination the HIV-positive community suffers from in many provinces and cities.

Under the burden of stigmatization, it is very "hard" to encourage those who have tested positive to reveal themselves and attend activities related to HIV/AIDS prevention, the official said.

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Chu Quoc An, deputy chief of the ministry's HIV/AIDS Prevention Department, agreed, saying that although the discrimination has lessened somewhat in recent years, thanks to the introduction of the Law on HIV/AIDS Prevention together with related campaigns and activities, anti HIV prejudice remains "common" in Vietnam. 

Women and children living with HIV are the biggest victims of such discrimination, An added, explaining that women tend to be reluctant to seek treatment and that children are often denied enrollment to schools.

Speaking at the conference, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said the threat of an HIV epidemic is present in every locality, and that HIV/AIDS prevention efforts will only succeed when people unite in the cause to stop its spread.

He called for all Vietnamese localities to be proactive in terms of allocating funds from their budget, along with support from the state budget and international funds, to treat those infected with HIV in order to decrease the rate of HIV infection to less than 0.3 percent of the country's population.

Chatsis also said Vietnam needs to increase its budget for HIV/AIDS prevention related activities, given that international funding is decreasing as the country's economy is growing rapidly.

Vietnam has some advantages in the fight against HIV/AIDS, such as a burgeoning methadone program, in which heroin addicts are given a substitute to help cure them of their addiction, she added.

Currently, some 20,000 people are undergoing the substitution treatment in Vietnam, Phuc told the conference, stressing that the country aims to have 80,000 drug addicts receiving the treatment by 2015.

He said not only the Health Ministry but also the chairmen of People's Committees in provinces and cities should be authorized to issue methadone licenses in their localities.

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