Vietnam to use HK system in HIV battle

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong's methadone programme will soon be replicated in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City in an effort to stem the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users.

The virus in the Vietnamese city is still mostly concentrated among high-risk groups, including intravenous drug users and prostitutes. The programme will be the first of its kind in the country.

'At the moment, groups from Vietnam are on study tours in Hong Kong, with financial support from the WHO [World Health Organisation],' said the deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City's Health Service, Le Truong Giang, who visited Hong Kong last year to study the methadone programme as a measure against HIV.

Methadone can be taken orally, removing the risk of infection through needles.

'The people involved in the programme are very experienced and have many years' experience in harm reduction. They understand both sides of the programme, good and bad,' Dr Giang said. 'So it will be very helpful for us to study it before we implement the programme.'

He said there could be 'a lot of problems and complications' among Ho Chi Minh City's 10,000 drug users who have returned to the community from detoxification centres. 'It is very important for them not to reuse or share needles.'

A needle-exchange programme is already in place.

About 3 per cent of those who have been on the detoxification programme return to the habit.

'I understand the percentage will increase. So by the end of the year, we will start the methadone programme,' Dr Giang said.

Facilities and funding from the WHO and the US-based President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief are in place to start the programme.