UNAIDS Vietnam called on Vietnam to invest wisely in its HIV response to ensure that it would achieve national and global targets on the occasion of the 25th World AIDS Day, which took place on December 1.

" Vietnam has made great progress against HIV. But big challenges remain. It is critical for Vietnam to focus precious national resources on three things: the right people, the right places and scaling up the most effective interventions," said Dr. Kristan Schoultz, Country Director of UNAIDS Vietnam.

"The right people are key populations at higher risk of infection: people who inject drugs and their sexual partners, people who buy and sell sex and men who have sex with men. We need to reach out to these populations in high-burdened areas of the country with interventions that make the biggest difference: condoms, sterile injecting equipment, HIV testing and antiretroviral treatment," said Schoultz.

Vietnam has made significant strides in scaling up HIV treatment and reducing the rate of new HIV infections; as a result, the epidemic appears to be stabilising. However, high levels of HIV persist among key populations.

In some cities, more than half of men who inject drugs were living with HIV by the end of 2012. The national rate for men having HIV among those who inject drugs was estimated at 11 percent. National HIV prevalence among female sex workers was 2.7 percent. Current evidence also indicates that HIV prevalence is increasing among men who have sex with men, a population that will account for an increasing proportion of future HIV infections.

The epidemic was still prevalent in mountainous and remote areas, said Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and people living with HIV/AIDS continued to face significant discrimination - making it harder for them to access health services.

Decreasing support, both technical and financial, also presented an obstacle, Phuc added.

As donor funding for HIV response declines, the United Nations was encouraging the country to expand initiatives that focus on earlier diagnosis and getting people on treatment as soon as possible in order to maximise the returns and impact of national investment.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also called on Vietnam to make greater efforts to improve access to prevention, treatment, care and support services for key populations. This could be achieved through strengthening the partnership between the Ministry of Health and communities, promoting more proactive, simplified HIV testing and counseling strategies and maximising the treatment and prevention benefits of antiretroviral treatment.

"HIV response in Vietnam is at a pivotal juncture. The scaling-up of innovative approaches is required to maintain momentum and build upon past achievements," said WHO Representative in Vietnam Dr. Takeshi Kasai.

"We now know that HIV treatment can prevent transmission of HIV. By further supporting early access to HIV diagnosis and treatment, Vietnam will be able to reduce new HIV infections and deaths caused by AIDS," added Kasai.

Deputy Prime Minister Phuc said the Government had approved a project to ensure funding for HIV/AIDS control and prevention activities for the 2013-2020 period.

A meeting with the theme "Towards no more new HIV infected people" was organised by the Vietnam Red Cross Society in collaboration with the Vietnam Youth Network on HIV/AIDS Prevention in Hanoi on November 30. Free consulting and HIV testing services were available alongside art and cultural performances and information aiming at preventing the disease and eliminating the stigma associated with it.-VNA