“Viet Nam has made great progress against HIV. But big challenges remain. It is critical for Viet Nam to focus precious national resources on three things: the right people, the right places and scaling up the most effective interventions,” said Dr. Kristan Schoultz, Country Director of UNAIDS Viet Nam and Convenor of the One UN Viet Nam’s HIV Joint Programming Group.
“The right people are key populations at higher risk of infection: people who inject drugs and their sexual partners; people who buy and sell sex; and men who have sex with men. We need to reach out to these populations in high-burden areas of the country with interventions that make the biggest difference: condoms, sterile injecting equipment, HIV testing and antiretroviral treatment,” Dr. Schoultz said.
Viet Nam has made significant strides in scaling up HIV treatment and reducing the rate of new HIV infections. The epidemic appears to be stabilizing. However, high levels of HIV persist among key populations in many provinces.
At the end of 2012, an estimated 11% of men who inject drugs in Viet Nam were living with HIV, according to national data, but in some cities more than half of men who inject drugs were living with HIV. National HIV prevalence among female sex workers was 2.7%.
Current evidence also indicates that HIV prevalence is increasing among men who have sex with men, and this population will account for an increasing proportion of future HIV infections.
Viet Nam has been exploring ways to bring HIV services closer to people in greatest need through greater involvement of civil society, including people living with HIV. There are also new initiatives that focus on earlier diagnosis of HIV infections, and getting people on treatment as soon as possible. The United Nations encourages expansion of such initiatives, to maximize returns and impact of national investments as donor funding for the HIV response reduces.
“The HIV response in Viet Nam is at a pivotal juncture. The scale up of innovative approaches is required to maintain the momentum and build upon past achievements,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO Representative in Viet Nam. “We now know that HIV treatment can prevent transmission of HIV. By further supporting early access to HIV diagnosis and treatment, Viet Nam will be able to further reduce new HIV infections and deaths caused by AIDS.”
WHO continues to call for greater efforts to enhance access to prevention, treatment, care and support services for key populations. This can be achieved through strengthening the partnership between Ministry of Health and communities, promoting more proactive, simplified HIV testing and counseling strategies, and maximizing the treatment and prevention benefits of antiretroviral treatment (ART).
Stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV is a powerful barrier to HIV services, as well as sustainable livelihoods for people living with HIV. A new study released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) ahead of World AIDS Day has found that employment is crucial for successful HIV treatment.
The report – The Impact of Employment on HIV Treatment Adherence -found that people living with HIV who are employed are almost 40% more likely to stick to HIV treatment than those without a job. Greater adherence to treatment was linked to having regular financial means to pay for related health services, medications and support, and to afford sufficient food.
“Employment and the role of the workplace are vital for successful HIV treatment,” said Dr Gyorgy Sziraczki, ILO Viet Nam Country Director. “It’s important to remove stigma against workers living with HIV at the workplace as some people are not revealing their HIV status because of fear of stigmatization and therefore not accessing ART, while others miss doses because they are concerned colleagues will see them taking treatment at work.”
In a 2011 study conducted by the Viet Nam Network of People Living with HIV, 1 in 10 people living with HIV reported that they have lost a job because of their HIV status.
UNAIDS has launched today a global “Zero Discrimination” campaign on social media.
“On this World AIDS Day—as we gather to remember friends and family lost to AIDS—we can also rejoice in incredible hope for the future… Few thought that we could achieve the progress which we are seeing today. Progress is clear in the scientific breakthroughs, visionary leadership and precision programming,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Mr Michel Sidibe. “But make no mistake, stigma, denial and complacency are still among us, putting us in danger of failing the next generation. We must join our hearts and our voices–together we are stronger.”