One in 10 Vietnamese drug addicts living in Saigon

By Le Phuong, Nam Phuong   August 3, 2017 | 08:04 pm PT
One in 10 Vietnamese drug addicts living in Saigon
Drug users at a park in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran
The country's biggest city also accounts for 16 percent of new HIV cases reported nationwide.

Ho Chi Minh City is fast becoming a hotspot for drugs, with nearly 22,000 registered addicts, accounting for around 10 percent of the national total, new figures show.

Bui Thi Xuan Mai, a senior lecturer at the University of Labor and Social Affairs, said at a conference on Thursday that the number of addicts in Vietnam has been increasing by around 10 percent a year to more than 210,000 at the present. She was citing figures compiled by the labor and social affairs ministry.

A growing number of young Vietnamese and students are becoming addicted, according to the ministry.

While the southern hub tops the list, Hanoi comes second with around 13,000 addicts, followed by nearly 9,500 users in the northern mountainous province of Dien Bien.

Drug smuggling from Vietnam’s neighbors such as China, Laos and Thailand has been increasing, while drug-related crimes are also on the rise, officials said at the meeting.

Mai said drug addicts used to be classed as criminals and were put into compulsory rehabilitation centers, but new policies treat them as patients and some are open to voluntary treatment.

Experts said drug use remains a major cause of HIV in the country. 

A new report from the Ministry of Health said more than 3,500 people tested positive for HIV in the first five months this year, down 11 percent from the same period last year.

But new cases increased in both Hanoi and Saigon, which respectively reported 311 and 572 new patients, together accounting for more than a quarter of the nationwide figure.

Marie-Odile Emond, UNAIDS's country director, said new HIV cases in Vietnam had fallen from 28,000 a year in the early 2000s to 11,000 last year, but that was still not enough.

A United Nations report released last month listed Vietnam among 10 countries which together accounted for over 95 percent of all new HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific region in 2016. The others were China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Thailand.

Health officials said in June that Vietnam has started trialing the HIV prevention pill PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) at several clinics in HCMC to assess the success of the drug and decide if it should be included in the national HIV prevention program.

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