Clinton urges end to HIV/AIDS stigma in Vietnam

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Clinton in Asia (courtesy Reuters) HANOI (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton urged young Vietnamese on Wednesday to talk more about HIV and AIDS to reduce fear and ignorance of the disease and discourage discrimination.

"The more you talk about it and the more people see flesh and blood human beings who are HIV positive who are good people and not frightening," Clinton said during a one-day visit with his New York-based Clinton Foundation for HIV/AIDS.

Vietnam, which has an estimated 280,000 HIV infections out of a population of 84 million people, is fighting to stop the spread of the epidemic to the general population from high-risk groups such as injecting drug users and prostitutes.

The Communist Southeast Asian country's epidemic is less serious than neighboring Cambodia and Thailand, but health authorities say the number of cases is rising rapidly at 100 new infections per day.

Clinton made his remarks during a panel discussion entitled "Fighting HIV/AIDS, Empowering Youth in Vietnam."

Earlier he signed an agreement with the government for his group to provide AIDS drugs to more Vietnamese women and children.

The foundation opened its Vietnam office in July and this was Clinton's second visit to the country, part of a week-long Asian tour on Tsunami recovery and HIV/AIDS.

In 2000 when he was still in the White House, Clinton became the first U.S. President to visit former war enemy Vietnam, five years after the normalization of relations.

Last month, Clinton's successor President George W. Bush made a state visit.

The ruling Communist Party, international health groups and donors have worked in recent years to fight stigma and discrimination that leads to HIV positive people being denied employment or schooling.

A new law comes into effect in January that includes anti-discrimination language.

The Clinton Foundation says that since its inception three years ago, it has helped bring care and treatment to 500,000 people living with HIV and AIDS around the world.

© Reuters 2006