WHO: Vietnam encounters HIV expansion, insufficient AIDS treatment

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AIDS newsHANOI, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) -- Vietnam is facing two major challenges: expansion of HIV infection from vulnerable groups to the general population, and stronger need for provision of treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS, the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in the country said here Friday.

Vietnam, where most of people living with HIV/AIDS are from most at-risk populations such as injecting drug users and sex workers, is facing the risk of the disease's expansion to the general population, WHO representative Hans Troedsson said at a press briefing, noting that the country and the WHO "need to know more about men having sex with men in Vietnam."

Another immediate, critical threats faced by Vietnam is the increasingly high number of people living with HIV/AIDS needing antiretroviral treatment (ART), while the country is now able to provide treatment to a limited number of the people due to complexity in establishing and running facilities offering lifetime treatment to the patients, he said.

"Now, an estimate of 35,000-36,000 AIDS patients (in Vietnam) need treatment, but only more than 10 percent of them have treatment," he said. The number of those in need of the treatment is estimated at 57,600 in 2008 and 73,000 in 2010 based on ART expansion plans with already committed resources, including those from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

"With high political commitment, Vietnam is making good progress in prevention and control of HIV/AIDS," he stated, noting that the country has already adopted a national HIV/AIDS strategy, passed an HIV/AIDS law, established specialized HIV/AIDS agencies, adapted to international guidelines and practices on both prevention and treatment, and intensified fights against stigma and discrimination.

At the press briefing, Heather O'Donell, project officer at the WHO in Vietnam, said the country has actively learned anti-HIV/AIDS experiences and harm reduction initiatives from many parts of the world with same disease conditions. Vietnam has followed methadone therapy, free syringe exchange programs and condom-use promotion activities from such countries as China, Australia, Thailand and Cambodia, she noted.

A high-level delegation led by Kevin De Cock, director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the Geneva-based WHO, will in next week meet with Vietnamese government officials, donors and partner agencies to learn initiatives from Vietnam's health sector response to HIV/AIDS and address important challenges ahead for the prevention, control and treatment of the disease.

In 2005, an estimated 260,000 people were living with HIV in Vietnam, a 12-fold increase since 1995. Over 13,000 local people died of AIDS in the year, according the WHO in the country.

Vietnam plans to reduce the HIV/AIDS infection rate among its 83-million population to below 0.3 percent by 2010, and keep it unchanged after 2020.

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