Doctors have called on men who have sex with men (MSM) to brave discrimination and meet peer educators and counsellors to learn about safe sex and reduce the risk of spreading HIV.

At a workshop held on March 25 on encouraging and increasing intervention to check HIV transmission among such men by the Ho Chi Minh City AIDS Prevention Committee, Le Truong Giang, deputy head of the municipal Department of Health, said the incidence of HIV among MSM has increased rapidly in Vietnam , including HCM City , in recent years.

He warned it could increase even further if timely preventive measures were not taken.

Nguyen Thi Hue of the AIDS Prevention Committee, quoted a report by the Committee as saying there were nearly 20,000 MSM aged between 15 and 49 in HCM City , but said the actual number could be 60,000.

A study in 2009 found that 16.4 percent of them tested positive for HIV, she said, mainly getting it through unprotected sex.

A study by the Family Health International in Vietnam found that only 24 percent of MSM used a condom during sex.

The risk of HIV spreading from this group is high and could threaten the wider community's safety because a large number of MSM could also have sex with women, Hue said.

Besides, some of them are sex workers, meaning there was a high risk of HIV spreading to other men, she said.

The number of MSM with knowledge of protection against transmission remained low though the city has had an interventional programme for MSM to prevent HIV/AIDS spread since 2009, she said.

This was because only a small number of MSM were involved in the programme, with only 9,164 out of the 20,000 meeting with the programme's peer educators, she said.

A mere 755 have availed the voluntary counselling and testing service, she added.

Dr Hang Thi Xuan Lan, manager of a project for HIV prevention among male sex workers by the Centre for Life, said discrimination against MSM was high.

As a result, many remained in the closet, making it difficult for the project's peer educators to reach them, she said. /.