HCM City plans to reduce the rate of new HIV infections to less than 1 percent in 2015 and maintain it in the following years, health officials said at a conference on Nov 27.

Since 2008, the number of new HIV infections, those who contract AIDS, as well as those who die of the disease has reduced consistently, they said.

Health Minister Nguyen Quoc Trieu, who chaired the conference that reviewed 20 years of struggle against the pandemic, praised the city for its unstinting efforts to contain and prevent the pandemic.

Lauding the achievements recorded in curbing the spread of the virus and disease, he said: "Compared with other localities, HCM City, with 25 percent of the nation's new HIV cases, has always taken the lead in fighting AIDS."

Dr Le Truong Giang, deputy head of HCM City AIDS Committee, expressed confidence that the city could build on its achievements so far to vastly improve results in the fight against HIV/AIDS over the next five years and beyond. He estimated the rate of new HIV infections among those above 15 years of age at 1.27 percent for 2010.

He said the number of newly infected HIV persons above 15 years of age would grow from 6,152 in 2011 to 7,102 in 2015, adding that if the city maintained the same HIV prevention campaign, it will have more than 33,000 new HIV infections five years from now.

Customers of sex workers are most vulnerable to the pandemic, while drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men would also form a significant part of new HIV infections in coming years, Giang said.

He warned that HIV transmission among men who have sex with men could spread very quickly during the years to come. The rate of infection within the group could double in five years, from 9.38 percent in 2010 to 18.64 percent in 2015. Until 2007, HIV infections had increased sharply in the city, with 10,515 new cases and about 700 people dying of AIDS that year, the conference heard.

The city's first HIV case was diagnosed in 1990. The situation has improved a lot from 2008 onwards and the number of fatalities from new infections had reduced dramatically, Giang said, adding that several HIV/AIDS prevention programmes implemented by the city have taken effect.

Awareness campaigns have received strong support from peer educators, officials said at the conference. There are currently 58 groups of HIV peer educators in the city and they work hard to educate street youth, particularly those who are more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

The city's programme on free HIV consulting, treatment, awareness on mother-to-child HIV transmission and others has contributed to the city's success in curbing the pandemic spreading.

Every year, the city provides consultancy services and HIV tests to at least 100,000 pregnant women, of whom about 600 are found HIV positive. It has been able to save 150 children from contracting the virus. During the past five years, about 800 children have been saved.

The city's provision of free ARV treatment for HIV positive individuals has reached half of the city's people living with the virus, it is estimated. According to the AIDS committee, the city currently has been offering free treatment to around 40,000 HIV patients.

The free anti-retroviral treatment offered to every HIV/AIDS patient has also been very successful, helping save an estimated 10,000 patients from death, Giang said./.