Vietnam: More than Half of Hanoi Prostitutes HIV-Positive: Government Survey

More than half of registered prostitutes in the Vietnamese capital now carry the AIDS virus, reflecting a huge surge of infection in the communist state's large sex industry, a government survey suggested Wednesday. Infection rates at the capital's Social Support Center Number Two, a home for women with repeat convictions for soliciting, reached 55.4 percent in 2001 against 39.2 percent the previous year, the labor and social affairs ministry survey showed.

The infection rates for Hanoi were even higher than those for Ho Chi Minh City, normally regarded as the country's vice center, the survey results carried by the police daily Cong An Nhan Dan (People's Police) suggested. In the commercial capital's Thu Duc Women's Education Center, the survey found that 24 percent of prostitutes were HIV-positive compared to 21 percent at the 05 Center in the northern port city of Haiphong. Across Vietnam's big cities, infection rates among registered prostitutes saw an increase of 18.4 percent over 2000.

The survey results seemed to contradict suggestions by some aid workers that intravenous drug use remained the primary means of transmission of the AIDS virus in Vietnam, even among prostitutes. Prostitutes who were also heroin users accounted for just 11.3 percent of the HIV infections in Hanoi, although the proportion rose to 18 percent in Ho Chi Minh City. The figures were the latest in a series of surveys to suggest an explosion of HIV infection in Vietnam's sex and hospitality industry.

A nationwide study published by the labor and social affairs ministry last March found that infection among prostitutes had leapt from 2.8 percent in 1998 to 21.6 percent in 2000. Western donors have expressed mounting alarm about the potential for HIV infection to spread from prostitutes into the general population, and Washington announced $6 million in assistance for AIDS prevention in Vietnam in November 2000.

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