Nguyen Thanh Trung (not his real name), a gay man who lives in Hanoi, was very upset by the way doctors discriminated against him when he was undergoing an anal health test in one of the city's many health clinics.

"The doctor told me to my face that having sex with men is not a natural act and asked me why I did it," Trung recalled.

"I was so upset that I left the clinic and will never return," he said.

This story was just one of many recounted by the Chair of the National Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) Technical Working Group Phan Huy Hien at a conference in Hanoi timed to coincide with yesterday's International Day Against Homophobia.

"This is a very typical case in the MSM community," Hien said, "Most feel isolated and then refuse to go to such places."

"There's no doubt that societal stigma and discrimination are preventing MSM from obtaining their basic rights when it comes to accessing information and health services, especially for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment of sexual transmitted diseases," said Hien.

A survey conducted last November by the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment of 25 health staff at several targeted health care clinics in Hanoi and HCM City showed that some forms of stigma persisted despite efforts to serve clients in the best possible manner.

Doctors believed, for example, that becoming a homosexual was a fashion statement. They teased gay patients, and criticised anal sex despite training on gay issues, the survey revealed.

Le Van Thanh, head of a support group in central Da Nang , said few of the members of his group visited health clinics. Thus they had a serious shortage of information on how to prevent HIV/AIDS.

"There are many weird questions we receive, such as whether HIV/AIDS can be transmitted via sharing glasses of water or whether sexual lubricant could help prevent the spread of the virus," he said.

Figures from HCM City 's Department of Health and the Family Health International in Vietnam from last March showed at least 19,000 MSM aged from 15 to 49 were living in HCM City .

About 16.4 percent of them tested positive for HIV/AIDS in 2009, an increase of 10 percent on 2006.

The rate of those who used condom was only 24 percent.

According to Hien, the National MSM Technical Working Group, together with its volunteers, mostly MSM, have carried out consultative work on HIV/AIDS prevention including supplying condoms and sexual lubricant free of charge for MSM in nine provinces and cities nationwide.

In addition, a guideline for comprehensive HIV/AIDS interventions for MSM has been completed and submitted for approval to the Vietnam Administration of HIV/AIDS Control. This would help improve the efficiency of the consultative work, he said.

Doctor Vo Thanh Trung, vice director of Da Nang City's AIDS Prevention Centre, said dissemination of information to doctors and health staff on legal issues over MSM should be stepped up at a grassroots level.

Brochures on MSM and relevant issues should be supplied to the community to eliminate stigma and discrimination, he said.

"It's time to act to create conditions for MSM to get the same rights as other citizens," he said.

Yesterday's conference was organised by USAID, United Nations in Vietnam and other non-governmental organisations./.