Stigma and discrimination continue to undermine the nation's fight against HIV/AIDS, Nguyen Hoang Long, Director, Viet Nam Administration of HIV/AIDS Control, tells the Viet Nam News Agency.
The 2014 Action Month for HIV/AIDS Prevention (from November 10 to December 10) has been themed "No stigma and discrimination against people infected with HIV/AIDS." Why?
Because despite the many gains achieved in HIV/AIDS prevention over the past 30 years, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS is still common in many countries. There are regulations that actually have regulations prohibiting people with HIV/AIDS from entering or living in a country.
In high risk groups, stigma and discrimination are major barriers to accessing prevention services and treatment including testing, treatment, harm reduction and rehabilitation services. They also create difficulties in detecting HIV/AIDS carriers in a community.
In order to eliminate the dreaded disease, the joint United Nation Programme on HIV/AIDS had set the Three Zeroes target: Zero new HIV infections; Zero AIDS-related deaths; and Zero discrimination."
That's why the this year's action month will focus its activities on strengthening awareness of the whole society on HIV/AIDS, and reducing stigma and discrimination against people who are unfortunately infected. Reducing discrimination can facilitate easier access to preventive and treatment services.
What is the situation in Viet Nam with regard to stigma and discrimination?
Over the past several years, many awareness campaigns have been carried out in every corner of the country, providing people with information about HIV/AIDS as well as preventive measures. These have led to considerable improvement in the situation, but stigma and discrimination against HIV/AIDS still remains in many places. It is silent sometimes, and public at others.
In many families, people with HIV are having to live and eat separately, and keep minimum contact with other members. Some are sent to centres for people with HIV/AIDS.
In the larger community, people prohibit or discourage their children, close people or relatives from meeting people with HIV/AIDS. People do not buy or use products sold by people with HIV/AIDS or their family members. HIV/AIDS carriers are not invited to attend community events. Even in medical facilities, staff hesitate to contact with or take care of those infected, especially in advanced cases.
What are the consequences of this stigma and discrimination?
As I said earlier, it limits access to services like preventive medicine, care, support and treatment. Many people, especially those in high risk groups, addicts and prostitutes, do not get themselves tested, causing difficulties in detecting new HIV infection cases in time.
Undetected cases are dangerous transmission sources.
Early treatment can help an HIV infected person live well and reduce up to 95 per cent the risk of transmission to others. However, many people hide their situation or do not dare to get treated.
Stigma and discrimination are also major barriers to the rights of people living with HIV, including the right to study and work like normal people.
What are the Government's main measures in tackling this problem and raising funds for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment?
In October 2013, the Prime Minister approved a 2013-20 plan on raising funds for HIV/AIDS prevention, focusing primarily on mobilisation and management.
The plan envisages increased State Budget spending for HIV/AIDS prevention and the promulgation of new mechanisms and regulations to invest in HIV/AIDS prevention because it might not in the national target programmes after 2015.
Provinces and cities are required to develop plans to ensure financial sources and increase local budget spending for HIV/AIDS prevention, especially in areas with high State Budget collections.
The plan calls for effective use of existing financial sources, such as focusing funding on key areas and intervention activities in groups who have tested HIV positive and high-risk groups including drug addicts, commercial sex workers and males having sex with males.
It also stresses the need for effective intervention measures targeting behaviour change, use of condoms, safe needles and methadone treatment, improved counseling and testing services, expansion of ARV treatment, and integration of HIV/AIDS prevention measures into the existing healthcare system. — VNS