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February 10, 2003

U.S. launches HIV education program in Vietnamese workplaces

(NewsRX.com) - In an effort to slow the spread of HIV and AIDS in Vietnam, the United States has launched a $600,000 program to promote education in the workplace about the disease.

The program aims to prevent further infection and help to make workplaces more tolerable for those already infected.

"If people are having unprotected sex, they'll probably go in and talk about condom use," said Jennifer Bacchus, a representative for the U.S. Department of Labor. "If there's a big drug problem, they'll talk about needles and those sort of issues." The program also will work with employers on how to be more understanding when employees get tested, regardless of the results.

"We will encourage people to be tested, to keep the results confidential and to provide counseling and support," said Patrick Burke, project coordinator from the Academy for Educational Development, an American nongovernmental organization. "It's an idea whose time has come."

Burke's group is coordinating the project, funded by U.S. Department of Labor.

In the early 1990s, several workers in Vietnam were fired after testing HIV-positive. As a result, many infections likely went undetected because employees didn't want to be tested for fear of being ostracized.

"Part of the program is to try to decrease the discrimination and stigma," Bacchus said. "They plan to explain to employers that just because somebody is HIV-positive, it doesn't mean they cannot work. They need to come up with a way to support them. And that doesn't mean firing them, but helping them get the help they need."

Health experts estimate there are 135,000 HIV-infected people in Vietnam, with intravenous drug users believed to be the biggest risk group.

Official government figures say there are some 56,000 infections and have been more than 4600 deaths since the country's first case was reported in 1990.

The United States is funding similar programs in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Ukraine.

This article was prepared by AIDS Weekly editors from staff and other reports.

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