Senior officials from the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have commended Vietnam for its progress in combating HIV/AIDS at a joint press briefing for World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), in Hanoi on November 30.

The political commitment shown by the Government of Vietnam in responding to HIV over the past 20 years has led to positive results in scaling up prevention and treatment, including harm reduction amongst drug users and the provision of life-saving treatment for people living with HIV, according to Steve Kraus, UNAIDS Asia-Pacific Regional Director, and Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO’s Director of HIV/AIDS Department.

“We have seen significant progress in Vietnam,” said Kraus. “The rate of new HIV infections has stabilised and there are fewer people dying from HIV.”

However, to sustain this progress, he said, Vietnam needs to continue to expand and increase its efforts to ensure that key affected populations such as sex workers and drug addicts have access to comprehensive HIV services without stigmatisation. In addition, Vietnam should also commit higher levels of its domestic budget to AIDS.

In Vietnam, the HIV epidemic is mainly amongst people who inject drugs, sex workers and men who have sex with men. A study in 2009 found that the prevalence of HIV amongst female sex workers in 10 provinces was 8.5 percent and in some areas, the rate amongst drug users was more than 50 percent.

Across Vietnam, an estimated 250,000 people are currently living with HIV and about 50,000 have already died from AIDS.

According to Hirnschall, Vietnam has succeeded in increasing antiretroviral treatments by 16-times over the past five years, saving many more lives.

An estimated 54 percent of people in need of antiretroviral treatment were receiving it in 2009. However, many mothers and children lack mother-to-child transmission prevention services.

Underlining 2010 World AIDS Day’s theme of “universal access and human rights”, Hirnschall remains committed to supporting Vietnam in developing responses over the coming decades./.