HIV rates rise among Vietnam’s most vulnerable

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New diagnoses of HIV-AIDS in Vietnam peaked in 2007 and have been on a slow decline since, however the rates continue to rise among men who have sex with men (MSM).

Since the first case of HIV was detected in Ho Chi Minh, the virus has spread rapidly throughout the country. Vietnam’s largest city remains the epicentre of the epidemic.

Vietnam has managed to successfully contain the spread of HIV within the general population, but it’s a different story for the ‘high-risk categories’ of intravenous drug users, female sex workers and MSM.

In modern Vietnam, homosexuality is slowly being integrated and accepted in society but there is still a strong stigma against the MSM community.

Available evidence shows a steady increase in the rates of HIV in the MSM demographic in Ho Chi Minh City from 6 per cent in 2000 to 15 per cent in 2013.

Nguyen Hue Thien, from the Ho Chi Minh City Provincial AIDS Committee, believes the stigma still associated with MSM is preventing many from seeking treatment.

“There is a strong stigma against the MSM population, so it is very unlikely that MSM will report behaviours related to their sexual orientation,” says Ms Hue.

Ms Hue says although there are potential signs that the number of new cases is stabilising, she still holds grave concerns about the possibility of a rising epidemic.

A 2011 survey found that only 24 per cent of the MSM population in HCMC use condoms and there was a lack of information about the virus within the general population.

Last year the World Health Organisation (WHO) called on the Vietnamese government to make greater efforts in prevention, treatment and support services for the high-risk sectors of the community.

Despite the rising epidemic of HIV within the MSM community, a scheme to ensure HIV prevention from 2013-2020 approved by the Vietnamese government last year fails to target the MSM demographic.

Australian funding of HIV prevention through AusAID fails to provide for this demographic. It directs all funds to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

Vo Hoang Son has worked in HIV prevention for more than 20 years and believes that prevention rather than treatment is key in fighting HIV.

“We see the most success from community outreach programs, peer education, needle exchange and condom programs,” says Mr Vo.

“Treatment is the last resort. If you have good programs for prevention you will never have to worry about treatment.”

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Thea Halpin

Thea Halpin is in her third year of a dual Bachelor of Journalism and Bachelor of Arts majoring in International Relations. Thea is set to graduate at the end of 2015 and currently works as a freelance writer for several Australian publications. She hopes to work internationally as a features writer.

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