HA NOI (VNS)— Strengthening legal aid to people living with HIV/AIDS is expected to help them better exercise their rights and receive essential services, it was heard at a conference by Ha Noi-based Centre for the Law, Healthcare and HIV/AIDS Policies under the Viet Nam Bar Association this week.
Speaking at the conference, the centre's director, Trinh Thi Le Tram, said few people living with HIV in Viet Nam knew or understood the law on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control, and this prevented them from exercising their rights.
Few had ever received services like legal consultation or legal aid, she said, adding that few lawyers offered these services.
Under the current law on legal aid, people living with HIV are not considered official beneficiaries to receive aid. They are instead listed as people with disabilities and have no one to rely on.
Shortcomings in offering aid were also revealed at the State's legal aid centres based at municipal and provincial Justice Department offices, she said.
Those who wanted access to legal aid had to show HIV-positive results, reveal their names and go to a State agency's office, which made them afraid and hesitant, Tram said.
She called for support from agencies and lawyers to promote legal aid to those living with HIV.
The Government was asked to offer funding to civil societies like Tram's centre to better reach out to HIV carriers and offer effective aid, she said.
Dr Kristan Schoultz, UNAIDS Viet Nam Country Director, said people living with HIV should be able to access a wide range of legal aid services, including legal education, legal assistance, representation in civil, criminal and administrative cases, and litigation.
She said although Viet Nam had legal regulations to protect the rights and legal interests of people living with HIV, stigma, discrimination and associated rights violations were still common in healthcare facilities, workplaces and the wider community.
"Many people living with HIV who suffer discrimination and rights violations do not seek help because they are afraid and feel they have nowhere to turn for protection," she said.
Hoang Thi Bich Ngoc, a HIV-positive state employee in northern Dien Bien Province shared at the conference that her managers suggested she resign her job after they discovered she was HIV positive.
She was advised to "accept her fate" and "quit her job" when she asked for assistance from local trade union and healthcare officials, she said.
"Tram and her colleagues helped me understand my rights and I still do my job," she said, adding that her managers were still unhappy to have her there.
According to a survey in 2014 by the Viet Nam National Network of People living with HIV/AIDS, 11 per cent of about 1,600 respondents of people living with HIV in HCM City, Ha Noi, Can Tho, Hai Phong and Dien Bien provinces, said their rights had been violated.
They experienced gossip and insults, were excluded from social activities and sometimes lost their jobs.
However, 94 per cent of respondents who had their rights violated said that they did not seek legal assistance as they didn't believe it would help. — VNS