HIV/AIDS prevention faces uphill task

By September 30, 2009, Vietnam had recorded more than 156,800 people living with HIV/AIDS, including 34,391 cases of full-blown AIDS. So far, 44,232 people have died from the deadly virus.  
It’s worth noting that there is a high risk of further outbreaks unless more preventive measures are brought in and conducted effectively and comprehensively.
HIV/AIDS likely to further spread
According to Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thanh Long, head of the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Department, the real number of HIV/AIDS patients is much higher than the figure reported by health agencies. He estimates that in 2009 more than 245,380 people in Vietnam are living with HIV/AIDS. Cases of HIV infection have been detected in over 70 percent of communes in 97 percent of districts in 63 province and cities nationwide.
By September 30, 2009, as many as 183 people in every 100,000 people were infected with HIV. The highest rate of infection was recorded in the south-eastern region with 323 cases in every 100,000 people. The central coastal and Central Highlands areas had the lowest rate of 44-46 cases in every 100,000 people. Most HIV/AIDS patients are drug users living in northern mountainous areas. The number of newly-infected cases has increased substantially since 2005.
Prof. Long says that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is spreading rapidly in Vietnam, especially among drug users and prostitutes. He quotes a recent survey, saying that the transmission of HIV is mostly through unsafe sex or sharing needles when taking drugs.
VND400 billion needed for HIV/AIDS control annually
Prof. Long says there still remain shortcomings in HIV/AIDS prevention and control in terms of facilities, equipment and human resources. Vietnam also lacks medical workers and those who are trained in HIV/AIDS prevention and control.
In fact, the rapid increase in the number of HIV/AIDS patients in key provinces has led to an over-crowding in hospitals, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. It is predicted that in the next five or ten years, most provinces and cities across the country will face a severe shortage of finance, health workers, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals allocate to HIV/AIDS patients, according to on-going projects. It is also difficult for localities to expand the HIV/AIDS prevention network to far-flung areas.
In addition, training on HIV/AIDS prevention at colleges and universities in the country are not effective enough as students do not have adequate resources. Local people’s awareness of HIV/AIDS is also limited, especially young people living in remote mountainous areas.
Prof. Long proposes that the Ministry of Health and the Interior Ministry recruit more medical workers for HIV/AIDS prevention centres at district and provincial levels. He says the two ministries should offer incentives to newly-graduated nurses and doctors to encourage them to get involved in HIV/AIDS prevention work.
He calls on the Ministries of Health, Finance, and Planning and Investment to spend more State budget on provincial HIV/AIDS prevention programmes until 2015, especially in An Giang, Binh Duong, Thai Nguyen and Quang Nam provinces.
“It is necessary to speed up HIV/AIDS prevention activities under the National Strategy for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control until 2010 and with a vision to 2020,” he says, adding that the Government should allocate between VND350-400 billion annually to the fight against the pandemic.

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