Vietnam’s strong efforts in 30-year fight against AIDS

Tuesday, 2021-04-20 16:06:56
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A HIV patient receives counselling on health management and the use of antiviral drugs at Quang Ninh General Hospital. (Photo: NDO/Ngoc Phuong)
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NDO – Since the first HIV infection was discovered in 1990, Vietnam has spent over three decades dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic – an arduous and challenging journey but also one featuring prominent achievements highly praised by society and well regarded by the international community as a bright spot in HIV/AIDS prevention and control.

Reports from the Vietnam Administration for HIV/AIDS Control (VAAC) under the Ministry of Health show that over the past 30 years, HIV/AIDS prevention and control have received a great deal of attention from the Party and State, as well as from the concerned organisations and units.

Up until now, a system of relevant legal documents has been issued, creating an important legal corridor for the effective implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention and control. A series of HIV preventive activities have been implemented widely, diversely and effectively, including providing free needles and syringes across 52 provinces and cities, free condom distribution in 55 provinces and cities, replacing the addiction of opioid substances with methadone in 63 provinces and cities for more than 52,000 patients, and offering pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to more than 13,000 clients in the last three years.

The country has more than 1,200 screening laboratories, covering 100% of districts, and 170 HIV-confirmed laboratories, covering 100% of provinces and cities nationwide. The HIV testing laboratory system is also piloting using rapid test results in remote and mountainous provinces.

Anti-Retrovirus (ARV) treatment is expanding day by day. A system of HIV/AIDS treatment facilities has been established and expanded treatment coverage, creating favourable conditions for HIV-infected people to access treatment services and maintain their long-term treatment. Currently, health facilities are treating more than 150,000 HIV patients, with 76% of them having access to ARV treatment programmes in 446 treatment facilities and 652 drug dispensing ones.

Many models have been deployed to improve the effectiveness of treatment, such as a combination model of antiretroviral therapy with tuberculosis/HIV combination therapy and provision of HIV preventive interventions. Many models of rapid treatment with drug delivery for many months have been widely deployed. Up until now, the viral load in HIV infected people is below the inhibitory threshold, making Vietnam one of four countries (along with Germany, Switzerland and the UK) meeting this target globally.

Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been highly effective, with the number of children infected with HIV due to mother-to-child transmission continuously having decreased from 2012 to present. The rate of mother-to-child transmission among children receiving ARV treatment in the past four years has been below 2.5%. On the other hand, the rate of people with HIV/AIDS having health insurance cards has also increased rapidly, from 50% in 2015 to 91% in 2019.

The rate of people infected with HIV/AIDS is decreasing, helping Vietnam be rated by the international community as a bright spot for HIV/AIDS prevention and control. With specific efforts and measures, Vietnam has maintained the HIV prevalence rate in the population below 0.3% in accordance with the National Strategy on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control to 2020, with a vision to 2030.

From 2007 up to now, the number of newly discovered HIV infections each year has tended to decrease. While more than 28,000 cases were detected each year on average during the 2005-2007 period, from 2012 up to now, on average, only 10,000 new HIV cases were detected each year.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in Asia Pacific, Vietnam has seen the largest decrease in the estimated number of new HIV infections in 2018 (64%) as compared with 2010. The number of new HIV infections in Vietnam in 2018 accounted for only about 2% of the total estimated new HIV infections for the region.

According to Dr. Do Hoang Long, Director General of VAAC, although many great achievements have been achieved, HIV/AIDS prevention and control work in Vietnam is still facing many risks and challenges, as HIV/AIDS is still one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the country. It is estimated Vietnam currently has 230,000 people infected with HIV, ranking fourth in Southeast Asia. In addition, 10,000 new HIV infections are detected each year. HIV infection has seen complicated developments recently, especially with the increase in the use of synthetic drugs, sexually transmitted infections and HIV prevalence among men who reported male-to-male sexual contact. Besides, funding sources are being cut fast, while domestic financial sources have not been able to compensate for this.

In order to achieve the goal of "ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030", in the next decade, Vietnam needs to continue to step up its HIV/AIDS prevention and control activities to reduce the number of new HIV infections and related deaths, while expanding and implementing harm reduction and HIV prevention intervention, diversifying forms of HIV testing and detection, improving the quality of HIV/AIDS treatment, and making plans to ensure annual funds are allocated according to the approved plans.

The last stage will be the most arduous, but Vietnam will act together as a united bloc and uphold its commitment not to leave anyone behind and put an end to the AIDS epidemic, making AIDS no longer a danger for public health and realising its Sustainable Development Goals.