Vietnam is keeping track of 175,000 people with HIV, but it has only provided antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to 130,000 patients.
According to data from the HIV/AIDS prevention agency under the Ministry of Health, the actual number of HIV patients in Vietnam, including those under management and those not receiving treatment, is 209,000.
While HIV cannot be cured by the ARV drugs, they are very effective in keeping the virus under control, helping patients live long active lives.
There are 45,000 patients that still have no access to ARV, Hoang Dinh Canh, deputy head of the agency, told a Thursday meeting on HIV/AIDS in Hanoi.
This means the total number of HIV patients without access to treatment is 79,000.
John Blandford, director of the HIV program of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Vietnam, said that the ARV is the best method to prevent the virus from being transmitted via sex.
When HIV patients receive ARV every day, it can keep the viral load low, which means the chance of HIV transmission through sexual acts is insignificant.
Those do not receive treatment can spread the virus in their community through sexual intercourse, Canh said.
Sexually transmitted infections are the most common among HIV patients, with the number of patients who are gay men increasing fast, said Do Huu Thuy, also with the HIV/AIDS agency.
It is estimated that there are about 170,000 gay men in the country, Thuy said.
The health ministry is implementing a preventive treatment plan for post HIV exposure with anti-HIV medications for the 2018-2020 period.
The project will be implemented in 11 cities and provinces with the target of having 5,610 people using the medication by late next year.
In the first half of this year, Vietnam detected 3,500 new HIV patients, 1,824 of whom contracted AIDS. 814 people died.
Compared to the same period last year, the number of new HIV infections has decreased by 30 percent, AIDS transmission by 27 percent, and deaths by 2 percent.
Vietnam has been struggling to find funds for its HIV/AIDS programs after foreign donors started to pull out when Vietnam achieved middle income status. These funds are expected to dry up completely by 2020.
By then, these drugs are scheduled to be provided under Vietnam’s health insurance system.
According to experts in the field, the lowest cost for treatment for one HIV patient per year exceeds VND4 million ($172), but for those who are drug resistant, the cost can be seven to eight times higher.
Drug resistance rises because people halt treatment halfway or do not follow properly the assigned treatment regimen.