Viet Nam takes stronger action on gender and HIV
24 March 2011
Nguyen Thi Hien, from Viet Nam’s northern province of Bac Ninh, contracted HIV from her husband. “My husband told me when we started our relationship that he had sex with sex workers and injected drugs in the past, but I did not know then what the implications were for me,” she said.
Ms Nguyen Thi, now a peer educator of the Bright Futures network of people living with HIV, said most of the women she meets are widows of men who injected drugs and who only found out their HIV status after their husbands died of an AIDS-related illness.
According to the Viet Nam Authority for AIDS Control (VAAC), in 2010 women accounted for up to 30% of the total registered HIV infections in Viet Nam, while before 2005 women made up less than 15%.
The epidemic in Viet Nam is still mainly concentrated among men who inject drugs. However, this change in the ratio of newly reported HIV cases may reflect an increase in HIV transmission from men with high risk behaviours to their wives or regular female sexual partners in Viet Nam.
The Government of Viet Nam has made firm commitments to develop a comprehensive response to HIV, as well as to prioritize gender equality within the country’s socio-economic development strategy.
We need to mainstream gender issues in each of the three pillars of the next strategy including HIV prevention, treatment and care, and impact mitigation
Dr Nguyen Thanh Long, Director General of the Viet Nam Authority for AIDS Control
To support this, the government and major stakeholders, including civil society and people living with HIV, came together to discuss ways to improve the gender responsiveness of the 2011-2020 National Strategy on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control. “We need to mainstream gender issues in each of the three pillars of the next strategy including HIV prevention, treatment and care, and impact mitigation,” said Dr Nguyen Thanh Long, Director General of the Viet Nam Authority for AIDS Control (VAAC).
Technical experts from UN Women and UNAIDS joined the discussions on 14-17 March. Participants identified areas of the national HIV response that should better respond to the specific needs of women and men at higher risk of infection. These include men and women who inject drugs, female and male sex workers and women whose intimate partners engage in high-risk behaviour. One area to explore is how the rapid scale up of methadone maintenance therapy—a priority for the next phase of the HIV response—could offer opportunities to better protect the HIV-negative sexual partners of drug users; for example, by providing people taking methadone with services to prevent sexual transmission of HIV.
“I have seen good signals of an engendered HIV strategy for Viet Nam,” said Suzette Mitchell, UN Women Country Representative. “Viet Nam has strong political commitment to address gender issues; and civil society is very engaged, providing many good ideas for gender mainstreaming in the strategy,” she added.
A 2010 United Nations-supported analysis of the current strategy for Viet Nam’s HIV response highlighted the need for more data to better understand the gender dynamics of the epidemic. In particular, the analysis identified a need for more information on how economic reform and social changes have different impacts on men and women and make them vulnerable to HIV.
“Gender issues need to be specifically addressed in the baseline analysis for the strategy and gender sensitive indicators need to be developed,” stressed Dr Long.
With intensified action to place gender issues at the centre of the national AIDS strategy, Viet Nam joins increasing efforts across Asia-Pacific to address this aspect of the AIDS response in the region.
“Viet Nam is showing extraordinary leadership on this issue,” said Jane Wilson, UNAIDS Gender Advisor from the UNAIDS Regional Support Team. “The agreement to engender the National Strategic Plan will have significant impact in making the AIDS response more effective and is an example of progressive action in the region on gender.”