Emerging Economy Also Gives Rise to HIV/AIDS Along China Border

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by Chua Siew Joo

Aug. 6 – At a recent HIV prevention and drug detoxification symposium in Hanoi, Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, Truong Vinh Trong, urged ministries, sectors and localities to prioritize prevention programs to curb the spread of HIV/AIDs.

Ironically, local authorities have a stake in running centers for providing sexual services. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vietnam country report revealed that state officials formed the largest group of clients among other groups like private sector employees, young men from rich families, police, military and businessmen.

Like neighboring China, it seems that Vietnam's economic transition also gave way to higher rates of drug use and commercial sex. In China, HIV/AIDS cases seem to be concentrated on drug use in southern and western areas and unsafe practices common among paid blood donors.

According to British HIV and AIDs charity, Avert, drug users in the region tend to share injecting equipment despite being widely available. The organization reported increased prevalence rates among female sex workers to 11 percent in Can Tho, 15 percent in Hanoi and 24 percent in Ho Chi Minh City.

In 2007, the estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Vietnam was pegged at 290,000, with 27 percent of these being women. On the other hand, the number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS during the same period was estimated at 20,000. Eighty-three percent of those infected with HIV are people aged from 20 and 39 years old.

The ADB report went on to say that with the economic reforms of 1986, the Doi Moi, alongside normalized China and Vietnam relations have greatly increased mobility among the two countries. Large-scale migrations within and beyond the Vietnamese borders, facilitated by economic and infrastructural development, have contributed to the growth of HIV/AIDs “hotspots.”

This year a Noi-Bai-Lao Cai segment of a transport corridor connecting Kunming in Yunnan province, China to Haiphong Port near Hanoi, Vietnam, is due for completion.

The growing importance of the Yunnan-Vietnam trade relationship, the transportation ministries of Yunnan and Lao Cai province signed an agreement to expedite border-crossing procedures for vehicles carrying cargo or passengers between neighboring provinces. A memorandum of understanding was also signed for China to help build four expressways that will further integrate the road networks of the two countries.

Along the China and Vietnam borders, economic traffic is the most active at Dong Dang province and Lao Cai province. There is heavy intravenous drug use alongside these border areas. The flourishing trading activities have helped develop an active sex industry with many Vietnamese women working on the Chinese side of the border. These women migrate to China and end up marrying Chinese men or working as sex workers.

Recognizing that, “[with] connectivity and integration comes vulnerability to the spread of HIV, especially along transport corridors and in cross-border areas,” the ADB has added an HIV/AIDs component into their ethnic minority development plans so that they are not subject to increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and human trafficking.

There is a need for government intervention and harm reduction measures like education and communication programs inside and outside schools, to reduce the rate of drug abuse among juveniles.

Already last April 2008, the governmented implemented a trial use of methadone to treat drug addicts in Haiphong and Ho Chi Minh City.