Stigmatising and discriminating against HIV/AIDS patients makes the disease even harder to control, Director of the Ministry of Health’s Administration of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Nguyen Hoang Long said.

He spoke with Vietnam News Agency reporter about the National Action Month for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control from November 10 to December 10 with a focus on non-discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients.

The official said discrimination was one of the main barriers hindering HIV-positive and at risk individuals from accessing preventive and treatment services, thus delaying the diagnosis of HIV and limiting the effectiveness of efforts to control the virus.

Additionally, prejudice hampers the full realisation of HIV patients’ legal rights, such as the right to study and work.

Public awareness on HIV/AIDS has improved in recent years due to communication efforts. However, Long admitted that negative attitudes towards HIV patients were still common, including amongst their own families and communities, as well as medical establishments.

A lack of knowledge on HIV/AIDS increases prejudice: many people still falsely believe the disease can be transmitted through direct contact such as sharing household utensils. Others associate HIV/AIDS with drug abuse and prostitution.

Campaigns that solely portray the disease as a danger and show HIV-positive individuals as inferior have further strengthened the stigma, he added.

Long said a number of activities will be organised at central and local levels in response to this year’s month of action, such as visits to HIV-positive children by senior officials; high profile talk shows with the participation of policymakers, medical service providers and HIV patients; HIV/AIDS-themed theatre performances; and meetings between ministries and the press.

Localities throughout the country are also expected to engage with HIV-positive residents and run communication campaigns to increase the public’s awareness, along with symposiums, meetings, and art exchanges, he added.-VNA