Free legal aid to HIV vulnerables

VietNamNet Bridge – Those most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS will have the opportunity to receive free legal counsel, for example in employment and marriage issues, in a national pilot project kicking off soon.

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A people living with HIV receives medical consultation in Ha Long City. — Photo: VNA/VNS

The project will be undertaken by the Vietnam Lawyers Association (VLA) and the Global Fund Supported Project on HIV/AIDS across Ha Noi, Quang Ninh and Thai Binh provinces in the north together with HCM City and Dong Nai Province in the south.

The project plans to provide free legal aid to those already infected with HIV and those who are particularly vulnerable to being exposed to the disease, including drug users, sex workers, transgender and homosexuals.

In Viet Nam, HIV transmission through sexual intercourse has become the most common method of transmission, with the number of new cases due to sexual activity surging from 12 per cent in 2000 to 45 per cent in 2013, according to the Ministry of Health.  

“Vulnerable groups tend to have little legal knowledge so they easily fall prey to abuse without even knowing about it. Even if they do, they don’t know where to seek help because of severe social stigma and discrimination,” the Centre of Legal Consultancy and Medical and HIV/AIDS Policies Director, Trinh Thi Le Tram, said at a conference on the issue last week.

A survey by the centre shows that about 75.9 per cent of HIV-positive people never sought public legal consultancy services, offered by the Government under the Law on Legal Aid issued in 2007.

Reasons for the low figure of people seeking help at public legal aid centres might lie in their stringent rule requiring the publication of personal identities, or their locations.

Public legal aid centres also lacked either separate rooms in which to offer services or legal consultants qualified in working with HIV-infected patients and HIV-vulnerable groups who suffer heavily from social stigma and discrimination, Tram said.

“Moreover, drug users, sex workers and homosexuals are not subject to free legal support from the Government,” she said.

The demand for legal aid of those groups was real and has been increasing throughout the years.

Tram said that while there were only 1,900 phone calls to her centre’s hotline (18001521) asking for help with HIV/AIDS and other legal matters, the number increased to more than 3,000 in 2014.

“However, the number is still very small compared to the total of HIV-infected people across the country,” she said.

Viet Nam identified some 227,154 HIV patients by the end of 2015, and estimated that there were about 254,000 HIV-infected people in the country.

Doctors warn of seasonal outbreaks

Doctors have warned of possible outbreaks of seasonal diseases such as pinkeye, viral fever and respiratory tract infections.

The Ha Noi-based Paediatrics Hospital has recorded more than 30,000 patients this month. It sees an average of 3,000 children patients a day, approximately 25 per cent higher than normal.

The young patients are often reported to suffer respiratory diseases, as well as pneumonia, gastrointestinal disease, viral fever and dengue fever.

Similarly, the Paediatrics Department of Bach Mai Hospital has lately received an increased number of patients for the treatment of respiratory diseases. It has reported receiving about 400-500 patients per day, with more than half of them suffering diseases related to respiratory problems and viral fever. Many children have been hospitalised several times in a short time because of re-infection.

Doctors of the two hospitals explained that the reason behind the increasing number of paediatric patients was because the weather in the North was in a transition period with hot weather in the daytime and chilly weather at night that reduced the resistance of children.

Besides, the concentration of bacteria and increasing viruses in the air made children susceptible, they said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health’s Department of Preventive Medicine has warned that erratic weather would enable bacteria that cause pinkeye disease.

Doctor Le Xuan Thuy from the department said that pinkeye is a very contagious disease and spread easily in the community.

From mid-August until now, the number of patients diagnosed and treated for pinkeye at hospitals in Ha Noi has reportedly increased and exceeded normal days.

At the Central Eye Hospital, the number of patients suffering pinkeye coming in for diagnosis and treatment accounted for about 11-12 per cent of the total number of all patients.

Thuy said the main causes of pinkeye disease are adenoviruses or bacteria such as streptococcus, staphylococcus and pneumococcus.

“A dirty environment, poor sanitation, contaminated water use, and shared living supplies such as towels and pillows are favourable conditions for developing the disease and spreading outbreaks,” Thuy said.

Thuy noted that pinkeye could spread through the respiratory tract, tears, and saliva, as well as by shaking hands, holding, touching items contaminated with pathogens such as door handles, stair knobs, telephones; shared objects and the personal belongings of the patients, such as towels and washbasins.

He said any suspected case of pinkeye disease should go to medical facilities for examination, counseling and treatment and should not be treated by traditional Vietnamese methods such as applying leaves like betel leaf and mulberry leaf onto eyes.

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