In Vietnam, discrimination still stalks people with HIV

By Khanh An, Thanh Nien News

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An overdose drug user with HIV is being rescued in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Khanh An An overdose drug user with HIV is being rescued in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Khanh An


Giang was refused surgery to treat her ovarian cyst last year after she told doctors she had HIV.
“First, doctors said I need to undergo a surgery or a rupture would be very dangerous,” the woman from Hai Phong, who admits she used to be an injection drug user, said.
“Before the surgery, I told doctors to take measures to protect themselves from HIV. They immediately told me to go home and that a surgery was no longer needed.”
Discrimination against people living with HIV remains a serious problem in Vietnam, undermining the country’s commitments to prevent new infections and support infected people.
According to the Vietnam Administration of HIV/AIDS Control, the government has pledged to achieve three goals in 2015: no new HIV infections, no deaths due to AIDS and no discrimination against people living with HIV.
The country also aims to reach the “triple 90” target in 2020, which refers to 90 of all people living with HIV knowing about their HIV status, 90 percent of all people with HIV receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy achieving viral suppression.
The country also looks forward to eliminating HIV by 2030.
An estimated 259,000 people are infected and live mainly in a few key populations with an average of 1,000 people getting infected every month.
The HIV prevalence in the general population aged 15-49 is 0.39 percent, according to World Health Organization estimates. The rate is 10.3 percent among people who inject drugs, 3.7 percent among MSM and 2.6 percent among women sex workers.
Violated rights
Despite many laws guaranteeing equal rights for people living with HIV, many of them say their rights are routinely violated.
Xuan, a sex worker and drug user in Dien Bien Province, said she faced discrimination when buying life insurance just because she has HIV.
“The insurance agent did not want to sell the insurance to me because I am infected with HIV.”
Chinh, a man with HIV in Dien Bien, said he has struggled to fight for equity in medical services for people living with HIV but to no avail.
“I tried to find supports from lawyers but received no help. Maybe they think my problem is insignificant.”
I and my wife have to wear face masks and not talk with anyone to avoid being recognized," -- Lanh, a man with HIV in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho 
The People Living with HIV Stigma Index released last week showed that despite much improvement since 2011, the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV in Vietnam remain unacceptably high.
The Index was created by the Vietnam National Network of People living with HIV (VNP+) after polling about 1,600 people living with HIV in Dien Bien Province and the cities of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, and Hai Phong.
It found gossip as the most commonly reported form of stigma and discrimination, and was experienced by nearly a quarter of respondents within the last 12 months.
Lanh, a man living with HIV in Can Tho, was recently told to vacate his house after the landlord came to know about his HIV status.
“I and my wife have to wear face masks and not talk with anyone to avoid being recognized,” he said.
The index also found a high proportion of people saying their HIV status was publicized without their consent.
Among high risk groups, injection drug users lead the list with more than 45 percent of them saying the information had been spread without their consent.
Dire consequences
Discrimination by society and family has also led to self-discrimination among people living with HIV, which sometimes led to suicide thoughts and attempts.
Duc, a man living with HIV in HCMC, said his family members think he is immoral.
“My two brothers often insult and beat me. I don’t know what to do, just because I did a wrong thing and contracted a disease that shames my family.
“I always feel ashamed and want to commit suicide. Sometimes I think that I can arrange an easy death. I don’t know why I am still here.”
The People Living with HIV Stigma Index found that two thirds of respondents often have negative feelings about themselves like guilt and shame.
A third of them isolate themselves by deciding not to get married. Half of them decide not to indulge in sexual activity.
Kristan Schoultz, UNAIDS Vietnam country director, said many people do not want to test for HIV for fear of discrimination.
As a result, they can unintentionally transmit HIV to their spouse and newborn children, meaning instead of just one person being infected with HIV, stigma and discrimination leads to three infections, she said.
Discrimination also prevents people from doing relevant tests for early treatment, which can prevent further infection and reduce the treatment burden.
In 2009 Phuong decided to test for HIV because she had sex with a man with HIV without protection.
After testing positive for HIV, the sex worker did not take treatment because she did not want people to know about her HIV status.
In 2013 she was often admitted to hospital with high fever or diarrhea and weight loss.
Doctors found her to be very weak and in the terminal stages of AIDS.

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