More than 6,000 Vietnamese caught HIV in the first six months this year, a fall of more than 1,200 compared with the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Health.

More than 2,400 of the new HIV patients had AIDS, a fall of about 1,000 over the same period last year. And a total of 844 of the AIDS patients died, a fall of 241.

Most new HIV patients were detected in Hanoi , HCM City , Dien Bien, Son La and Thai Nguyen provinces.

Vietnam now has 190,902 people with HIV, including 46,056 with AIDS. A total of 50,100 people died of the disease, according to statistics from the ministry's Administration of HIV/AIDS Control.

The use of hard drugs by injection was reported to be the highest cause of HIV infections at 17 percent. Prostitution and homosexual sex followed with 4.6 percent.

The number of people catching HIV via sex increased by 3 percent over last year.

Deputy head of administration Chu Quoc An said although both the number of HIV/AIDS patients and people dying of AIDS decreased, the disease was not contained.

He said recent research showed a high ratio of drug addicts used needles and that many prostitutes did not insist on the use of condoms.

An said discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients was a serious obstacle to treatment and rehabilitation. He also said HIV/AIDS control programmes lacked medical workers and funds.

To control the epidemic, the Ministry of Health has had satisfactory results delivering 12 million injection needles free-of-charge to more than 134,600 drug addicts. This was 6 percent more than for the same period last year.

Another programme delivered more than 11 million free condoms to people at high risk of catching the disease.

More than 300 consultancy rooms are now open across the country. In the first three months this year, they handled 144,000 people, all of whom received HIV tests, an increase of 60 percent. /.