Trinh Thi Le Tram, director of the Hanoi-based Centre for the Law, Healthcare and HIV/AIDS policies, says she still remembers the case of a kindergarten teacher who was sacked from her teaching post after she was infected with HIV from her husband.

According to Tram, the school transferred her to an assistant's position, and she was only allowed to do minor administration work despite having worked as a teacher at the school for 10 years. The teacher called the hotline at the centre.

"We explained to the school's managing board that they had breached the Law on HIV/AIDS Prevention," Tram said. "The woman was later reinstated to her teaching post."

With increased support from the Government, social agencies and non-government organisations in recent years, many people living with HIV have been able to find employment. But many with the disease are still calling for concrete policies and more support to help them find work and end discrimination.

Tram said under the Law on HIV/AIDS Prevention issued in 2006, the Government encourages businesses to hire HIV infected people. However, many companies still found loopholes to discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS.

Since 2007, the centre has reportedly given support and advice to more than 2,000 people living with HIV who need help such as legal counselling on employment-related matters.

"For people living with HIV, jobs are extremely important, which allow them to forget about the disease, reduce economic pressure and integrate with the rest of the community," Tram said.

Self-help groups across the country have also been providing support to people living with HIV by allowing them to become part of a network of people that help each other out in finding work. Pham Thi Hien, head of the Vi Ngay Mai Tuoi Sang (For a Brighter Tomorrow) group in Bac Ninh province, said many HIV-positive people could not work in labour intensive environments at industrial zones and businesses.

"That's why many of them need more financial support so they can start home-based businesses such as raising cattle or sewing clothes," she said.

Members of the group managed to donate enough money for a member to buy a sewing machine and assisted her in finding a market for her products. But getting donations from businesses was proving difficult, said Hien.

Dam Thi Thanh Hoa, an employment specialist with USAID's HIV Workplace Project, said it was important that people living with HIV did not have to worry about their health conditions while seeking employment. They needed to be confident about their abilities, said Hoa.

"It's important that people living with HIV see themselves as the same as any other job-seekers, so they can find jobs that are suitable to their desires and abilities," Hoa said.

The 3-million-USD USAID HIV Workplace Project, carried out during the 2008-13 period, has been implemented by Chemonics International within the framework of the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief programme.

So far, the project has supported nearly 500 people living with HIV, high-risk individuals to secure stable jobs or set up their own businesses through micro-finance services. In addition, the project also supported beneficiaries in finding markets for their products.

The project also supported 118 enterprises in seven localities — Hanoi, HCM City, Nghe An, Quang Ninh, An Giang, Can Tho and Hai Phong— to formulate HIV workplace policies such as allowing employees who have HIV to take time off to get medicine on a monthly basis or promoting a friendly environment at the workplace for them.

Nguyen Thi Hoa Binh, director of the Centre for Assisting Women in Preventing HIV/AIDS under the Vietnam Women's Association, said that by 2015, international funds for HIV prevention work would be limited, thus requiring further efforts within communities and local governments.

"Without further effort to provide micro-finance loans and assist them in finding jobs, unemployment will make HIV patients more vulnerable to unsafe practices, and increase the possibility of spreading the virus to the community," Binh said.

Binh said there was a need to implement awareness campaigns to eliminate discrimination towards HIV/AIDS patients and push for more concrete policies to create jobs and provide vocational training for HIV infected patients.

Do Thi Ninh Xuan, deputy head of the Department for Prevention of Social Evils under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, said the Government should provide more favourable policies for small businesses to hire HIV patients, such as lowering taxes or eliminating land taxes for businesses that use land to provide vocational training for them.

Xuan said HIV patients must also receive legal protection from the local authorities and other social organisations./.