HO CHI MINH CITY, Oct 10( IPS) - Vietnam has had a national
anti- HIV/AIDS programme since the early 1990s, but indications
are whatever lessons have been imparted have not been learned
Indeed, one of the results of this is that this South-east
Asian country now has more and more children getting HIV, which
causes AIDS. Experts say many of these youngsters are getting
the virus from their HIV- positive mothers, while others are
getting infected because they have become part of the sex
Vietnam had its first reported HIV case in 1990. Official
statistics show that as of Jul. 31, Vietnam has a recorded
cumulative total of 38,359 people with HIV/AIDS. Of these some
2,500 of them are very young people, including infants. If
unrecorded cases are taken into account, Vietnam may actually
have had as much as 180,000 people who have been infected with
HIV since 1990, say experts. HIV-positive mothers can infect
their children while they are still in the womb, during labour
and delivery or through breast-feeding. According to government
data, Vietnam had a cumulative recorded total of 19 pregnant
women with HIV in 1998.
This rose to 46 in 1999, and 108 in 2000. The figure has since
climbed to 260. There are no statistics to show how many among
the children of Vietnamese mothers with HIV have tested
positive. But officials and social workers say that orphanages
and child shelters are reporting that more and more of the
children brought to them have HIV.
They add that a large number of these children have been
The institutions themselves report that they have also been
taking in more children who have been rendered orphans by the
Typical of such effort is the work done by the Vietnam Women's
Union (VWU), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and
the Fellow Traveler, a non-governmental organisation. They have
launched a project to care for children infected with HIV.
There are 93 children infected with HIV being cared for in the
Phu Tan district in the Mekong Delta province, says Tran Ngoc
Anh, who heads the VWU in the Phu Tan district. "They receive a
130,000 dong ( 8.65 dollars) per month subsidy, but it only
lasts for three months. We would like the government to issue
further policies regarding HIV children."
Similar stories are coming in from correctional institutions
for minors. According to some observers, though, the children
with HIV brought to these places are likely to have been
involved in sex work.
Here in Ho Chi Minh City, local authorities say that about 20
percent of the sex workers are less than 18 years old, and that
many of these minors are now infected with HIV.
The deputy director of Ninh Binh Rehabilitation School No.2,
Nguyen Thanh Binh, says about 20 percent of the 700 students at
correctional schools are HIV infected. "That's a high
percentage," he remarks.
What is worsening such a situation is the fact that the
managers in children's shelters, orphanages and correctional
institutions all say they are unsure what kind of care is
needed by the children with HIV/AIDS who are under their
They also admit to having personnel who are unwilling to take
responsibility for the children who have the virus.
Children's shelter and orphanage authorities say that while the
State has issued specific social assistance policies for
orphans and abandoned children under 15, there are no
regulations covering those with HIV. They also complain that
they simply do not have the funds required to take care of
In truth, some orphanages have even turned away children with
HIV/AIDS, saying that they need special care and "might infect
the other children".
Binh has similar complaints, saying that regulations governing
these schools do not cover the HIV problem, making it difficult
for the management when it comes to schooling HIV children.
"The regulations don't identify exactly what the school's
responsibilities and obligations are, in terms of looking after
HIV infected pupils," he says.
It has also become evident that some staff members were uneasy
about the presence of HIV-infected people at the school, and
were distancing themselves from the students. Says Binh: "This
makes it hard to manage, care for and educate all the students,
and particularly the HIV- infected students."
And as in the case of orphanages, correctional schools need
funding. "We haven't yet received any funds to look after
HIV-infected pupils," Binh says.
"When one of the kids has to go to hospital, we have to foot
the medical bills."
At the very least, the attitude of the authorities and
personnel in these institutions indicate poor understanding of
HIV/AIDS. Many, for instance, seem to assume that the virus
could be passed on by sheer proximity to someone who is
infected, which is not the case.
There also seems to be a perception those who have the disease
should be segregated from other people. In the case of
children, experts say that so long as their health allows it,
children with HIV/AIDS should be allowed to attend school with
little fear that they will pass on the virus to others.
So far, they say, there has yet to be a report of a child with
HIV infecting someone else as a result of day-to-day activities
Such a situation, however, is not surprising in the light of
studies indicating that Vietnamese health personnel do not have
adequate understanding of the disease.
A 2000 survey conducted among 1,178 Vietnamese doctors and
nurses, for instance, found that 93.3 percent of them do not
even know to diagnose the disease.
Last July, a workshop sponsored by UNICEF recommended that
Vietnam sharpen its legal and regulatory framework concerning
the care given to HIV /AIDS children.
This would include setting out the children's rights and also
the obligations and responsibilities of public institutions and
society at large. .