CAN THO (VNS)— The Ministry of Health (MoH) and international organisations have urged for support and assistance to be offered to people at particular risk of catching HIV/AIDS - drug users and sex workers - rather than punishing them for their lifestyles.
Representatives from the ministry attended Saturday's ceremony marking the 2012 National Action Month of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Combat.
Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long said the number of new HIV cases annually rises above 10,000. He added the number of cases caused by unsafe sexual activities has increased, which meant that more women and children risk getting the virus.
Punishing people who are most at risk simply doesn't work – it doesn't reduce drug use, it doesn't reduce sex work and it doesn't reduce HIV, according to Tony E.Lisle, country director of UNAIDS Viet Nam.
He argued that drug users need clean needles and evidence-based treatments for drug addiction. Sex workers need condoms, regular health checks and protection against exploitation.
"Many of these individuals are rejected by society for committing so-called "social evils". And when society rejects them, it is very difficult to reach them with health care and social services. HIV thrives in this situation."
Long said there is a lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS among the public.
"The HIV epidemic will re-emerge if we do not pay it enough attention and put it on high alert."
Nguyen Thi Luong (not her real name) from southern Can Tho City said that she got HIV due to sharing needles with other drug users nearly 10 years ago. "I have become a volunteer to deliver free needles to addicts so they can protect themselves from this disease if they fail to give up."
A Government decree issued last week has established a framework for increasing access to methadone maintenance therapy.
The decree is a milestone on the road towards Viet Nam's target of providing methadone to 80,000 people who inject drugs by 2015.
The 2012 Action Month marks one year since Viet Nam committed to the global goal of "Getting to Zero: Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination, Zero AIDS-related deaths". The latest statistics show that the country has more than 263,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. — VNS