Tobias Visits Vietnam Hospitals, Meets With Government Officials to Assess Country’s AIDS Epidemic
Ambassador Randall Tobias, head of the State Department's Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, in Vietnam on Friday met with the nation's health officials and HIV/AIDS patients to assess the spread of the disease, which has begun to cross over from high-risk groups to the general population, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. Tobias is making a three-day visit to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi following President Bush's announcement last month that Vietnam will be one of the countries eligible for funding under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Mason, AP/Yahoo! News, 7/9). Vietnam is the only country outside of Africa and the Caribbean eligible for funds under the five-year, $15 billion plan, and will be designated as one of its "focus countries." Although there are currently about 130,000 HIV-positive people in Vietnam, some analysts predict that number could increase eightfold to one million people by 2010. Senior administration officials said that the administration "considers that Vietnam is a place where the American people's money can really make a tremendous impact because it is on the brink of a very explosive epidemic" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/23).
Tobias also met with Vietnamese Health Minister Tran Thi Trung Chien on Friday and is expected to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, according to the AP/Yahoo! News. In addition, Tobias is expected to visit an HIV/AIDS hospital ward before going to Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday for the opening of the XV International AIDS Conference. During Tobias' visit to Vietnam, a popular restaurant unveiled the country's first condom vending machine, the first of 20 that not-for-profit condom maker DKT International plans to install in Hanoi by August. According to the AP/Yahoo! News, the project "took some persuasion" before it could be implemented because sex is a taboo topic in the country, and there is a stigma attached to condoms. More than one dozen venues refused to install condom vending machines in their men's bathrooms due to this stigma, according to the AP/Yahoo! News. Lin Menuhin, DKT deputy director, said, "We want condoms to be treated just like toothpaste or deodorant," adding, "A lot of people are still embarrassed about buying condoms, even at the pharmacy. So this takes away the need for a personal transaction." Menuhin said that DKT hopes to expand the project to other major cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Haiphong (AP/Yahoo! News, 7/9).