A community-based organisation in Cần Thơ Province provides consultation on HIV/AIDS for young people at higher risk of the disease. — VNA/VNS Photo

This puts Việt Nam among the seven countries with the proportion of young people among total new HIV infections higher than the regional and global average – together with Myanmar (53 per cent), Indonesia (48), Thailand and the Philippines (47), Cambodia (43), and Laos (42).

The key population groups are defined by the UN agency as gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, and people who inject drugs, who are particularly vulnerable to HIV and frequently lack adequate access to services.

However, the positive note is the rate does not appear to be on an increasing trend, according to a UNAIDS Asia Pacific representative at the regional launch of the new global report on Wednesday.

In 2022, there were an estimated 270,000 men who have sex with men, 123,600 people who inject drugs, 62,000 female sex workers, and 78,400 transgender women in Việt Nam.

HIV prevalence is higher among these key populations. According to the 2022 HIV Sentinel Surveillance (HSS) data, HIV prevalence among drug users was 12.1 per cent, among men who have sex with men was 12.5 per cent, among female sex workers was 2.4 per cent, and among transgender women was 5.8 per cent.

However, reports indicate that young key populations are facing challenges in accessing prevention services, with less than 30 per cent of people injecting drugs, men having sex with men, and female sex workers having inadequate access to these services.

New infections

It was estimated that there were 5,700 new HIV infections in Việt Nam in 2021.

The country would need to cut down annual new HIV infections to equal or below 1,000 by 2030 to end AIDS as a public health threat.

According to the Việt Nam Authority for HIV/AIDS Control (VAAC), in 2022 there were about 12,000 people newly diagnosed with HIV. This brings the total number of people living with HIV who know their HIV status in Việt Nam to 222,388, or about 89 per cent of the total estimated number of people living with HIV in the country.

The National Strategy to End AIDS by 2030 set Việt Nam for the target of 90 per cent of all people living with HIV get diagnosed by 2025.

“The trend of new HIV infection across countries in the region differs. In Việt Nam, the estimated number of new HIV infections has decreased by 56 per cent between 2010-2022. However, we are seeing an increasing number of HIV infections among MSM in some provinces in the country. This is a red flag. Immediate and smart investment in targeted intervention using the “population-location” approach is crucial,” Dr. Maria Elena F. Borromeo, Country Director of UNAIDS Việt Nam told Việt Nam News.

There were 172,193 people living with HIV on anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment by the end of 2022, representing 82 per cent of all people with HIV who know their HIV status. Further up-scaling of treatment initiation within the same day of HIV diagnosis can help reduce loss in follow-up and increase enrolment into ARV treatment.

Việt Nam was lauded for the significant increase in pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use in 2022, with about 51,493 people receiving PrEP at least once, up by 59 per cent from 2021. PrEP is seen as a key strategy for the prevention of sexual transmission of HIV.

Asia-Pacific situation

The Asia Pacific region was estimated to have about 6,500,000 people living with HIV in 2022, making it the second-highest number among all UNAIDS regions.

Last year, approximately 300,000 new infections and 150,000 AIDS-related deaths were reported in the area.

Around 78 per cent of people living with HIV in the Asia Pacific region knew their status in 2022. Of all people living with HIV, 65 per cent were receiving antiretroviral treatment, and 62 per cent had a suppressed viral load.

However, the region did not witness an increase in treatment coverage since 2021 and is lagging behind the global treatment average of 76 per cent. As a result, increasing the number of people who know their HIV status, ensuring early treatment initiation, and retaining individuals on treatment to achieve viral suppression and an undetectable viral load are critical priorities for many countries.

The concept of "Undetectable=Untransmittable" (U=U) applies when people on antiretroviral therapy achieve an undetectable viral load, rendering them unable to transmit the virus.

The HIV epidemic in the Asia Pacific region disproportionately affects key populations and their sexual partners. Compared to the general population, the median HIV prevalence is 25 times higher for men who have sex with men, 20 times higher for people who inject drugs and transgender people, and five times higher for people in prisons and sex workers.

Eammon Murphy, Regional Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, recommended that countries and agencies focus on HIV prevention programmes and funding for key populations, engage youth-led organisations in planning and implementing HIV programmes, make access to PrEP easier, promote harm reduction, increase access to condoms, and make self-testing easier to young key populations.

He also urged the removal of human rights barriers by reforming laws and policies that hamper young key populations’ access to services, while making sure to diversify service delivery methods to meet the needs and realities of young key populations. — VNS