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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Vietnam Must Change Tack to Halt 'Serious' HIV Epidemic:

October 20, 2003
Agence France Presse (10.14.03) - Monday, October 20, 2003

UN and international health experts warned on Oct. 13 that Vietnam has a serious, fast-growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, and they asked the government to take a more liberal approach to control it. Particularly, they urged that Vietnam lessen the stigma and discrimination against HIV-infected people, ensure their access to health care, and improve testing and counseling services.

"This is a late epidemic," said Mary Kamb, CDC's director in Vietnam. "The country has been spared HIV for many years and so in many ways the things Vietnam is experiencing now are quite similar to what was experienced in North America, Europe and many parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa 20 years ago. The challenge for Vietnam is to learn from the lessons that these other countries have had or may be able to offer." Ministry of Health figures show that since the first HIV case was reported in December 1990, 71,530 people have contracted the virus. Reported cases are increasing at roughly 1,300 per month, according to Nancy Fee, country coordinator for UNAIDS. True numbers could be much higher than official figures, with some estimates putting the number between 160,000-300,002 cases.

Injection drug users account for about 60 percent of Vietnam's HIV cases, but that is partly because they are automatically tested when they are arrested and put into rehabilitation camps, Fee said. Repeat IDU offenders go to detention or detoxification centers for 24 months. Prostitutes go to similar camps for three- to nine-month sentences.

HIV is spreading rapidly into Vietnam's general population. The state-controlled media downplays this fact, blaming HIV on drug users and prostitutes, a "social evils" approach that the UN, Western governments and international AIDS organizations are trying to convince Vietnam to abandon.