UNAIDS Viet Nam speech at National Harm Reduction Conference, July 2008

Tuesday 29 July, 2008
Ha Noi, Viet Nam 

Thank you for your participation today, and for supporting the ongoing discussion on drug use and HIV in Viet Nam. This conference is national in scope, but this issue is not.  Viet Nam is not alone.  

Around the world, 16.5 million people use opium and heroin.  These substances are highly addictive.  Beginning is easy; stopping is hard.  The prevalence of heroin use among people aged 15 to 64 has not changed since the late 1990s.  So drug use is not going away.  Not in the world, not in Asia, and not in Viet Nam.  More than half of the world’s heroin users live in Asia (6.1 million persons or 51% of the world total), and Asia’s overall share in global opiate use is growing.  Not only that, for the first time since 1998, poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia increased in 2007.    It is clear that our approach to drug use is not working.  And if we cannot control drug use, we cannot control the HIV epidemic.  In some places, 60% of drug users are living with HIV.  These issues do not stand alone.

I would like to thank our partners for holding this conference.  Thank you for your willingness to investigate all viable approaches to drug use and HIV in Viet Nam.  Thank you for recognizing that we need face this challenge together.  

Drugs are illegal.  Drug addiction enervates individuals and unravels families and communities.  As a result, it can be extremely challenging – on both a legal and a personal level – to see beyond the criminal and the addict to the person; the father, husband, child, friend that needs, desperately needs, assistance to quit using.  A drug user cannot quit alone.

The system now in place to help drug users and drug addicts in Viet Nam has a long history.  Changing that system is difficult, even destabilizing.  But as we see from the preliminary successes rolling in from the pilot Methadone clinics, the effort needed is well worth the effort – a joint effort; this is not something that one ministry, one agency, can do alone.

One tree does not make a mountain; three trees together can.

Deputy Prime Minister Mr Truong Vinh Trong and partners in the Ministry of Health and the Viet Nam Administration of AIDS Control are to be commended for pushing ahead with the controversial, but absolutely essential, programme of opiate substitution therapy.  I am confident and optimistic that this programme will find the support it needs to expand.  

Thank you again for your participation.  Let us work together, speak openly and listen sincerely, so that we can make the best use of our time here today.  

Chus suc khoe and best wishes for a successful and productive conference.

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