UNAIDS Address at the Workshop on the Catholic Church in Vietnam and HIV

Monday 14 January, 2008
Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam 

Reverend Monsignor Robert Vitillo, His Grace Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, representatives from the People’s Committee, the Viet Nam AIDS Administration Control and the Bureau of Religious Affairs, national and international colleagues and distinguished guests.  

Growing up in an Irish Catholic family in Australia, I heard the story of the Good Samaritan many times as a child.  To be a good neighbour, I was taught, meant to have compassion for all people regardless of their status, faith, gender or sexual orientation.  To have compassion and, as is written in John the first, chapter three, verses 17-18, ‘To love not with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.’  As a child, that seemed very simple to me.  As an adult, seeing every day the physical, emotional, spiritual, financial and social distress that PLHIV face, and hearing their stories about stigma and discrimination, I understand now how difficult that really is.

Compared with the rest of the Southeast Asia region, the epidemic in Viet Nam is not the most serious; however it is growing quite quickly. The estimated number of people living with HIV in Viet Nam has more than doubled between 2000 and 2005, from 120,000 to 260,000 (MOH VN 2005). In 2006, an estimated 280,000 people were living with HIV.

Viet Nam’s HIV epidemic remains largely concentrated among key populations at higher risk, with high HIV prevalence among injecting drug users, female sex workers and their partners, and men having sex with men. Injecting drug use, particularly among young men, continues to drive the epidemic. Of the reported HIV cases, 64% are young people under 29 years. There have been a cumulative 14,042 AIDS-related deaths (reported data to August 2007)

There is great variability within VN in the timing of local HIV epidemics.  The epidemics in HCMC and the north-east coast initiated earlier, while epidemics in other parts of the country are more recent.  This variability has resulted in a geographic concentration of HIV cases in big cities and provinces where the local HIV epidemic in groups of IDUs, FSWs and MSM is substantial.

The response to HIV in Viet Nam is challenged by stigma and discrimination; low coverage of prevention services; low coverage of ARV drugs and support services; limited services to rural and remote areas.

The Joint United Nations Team on HIV supports the Government of Viet Nam to coordinate and implement the national response. UNICEF is supporting the development and dissemination of a strategic framework on the participation of religious organisations in the HIV response. This framework is based on the conclusions of the national conference on ‘Promoting the Role of Religious Organisations in Addressing HIV’ that was held one year ago in Hue.  It calls on faith-based organisations to use their unique position and weighty influence on Viet Nam’s community of believers to become more involved in HIV prevention, in care and support to PLHIV, and in reducing stigma and discrimination throughout society.  It also stresses that this involvement will be most meaningful if cooperation among religions is expanded as well.
 
UNAIDS continues to strengthen its partnerships with civil society organisations and support their active involvement in the response.  An example of this is the recent consultation with civil society organisations as a part of the UNGASS process.

Faith-based organizations have been involved in the AIDS response since the earliest days of the epidemic and have often been among the first to respond, providing services, prevention, treatment and care.  Their leadership has great influence in the lives of many people, and leaders speaking out responsibly about HIV can make a powerful impact at both community and international level in addressing stigma and discrimination. 

A recent example of this is the call from the Pope and Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the G8 to increase funding for HIV. Or, closer to home, the Mai Hoa Centre in Ho Chi Minh City, founded by Cardinal Pham Minh Man, has been a model of compassionate care, treatment, and reduction of stigma and discrimination.

From our part, UNAIDS has a Memorandum of Understanding with Caritas Internationalis and we stand ready to support Caritas in their efforts.  Thank you all very much for your compassion and your dedication.  Thank you for engaging in this difficult work, and for extending compassion to your neighbours in the spirit of the first Good Samaritan. 

Good morning and good health to all.

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