Health officials at a two-day conference organized by the government and the United Nations said HIV was on the rise among sex workers, despite programmes to fight the disease.

Nguyen Trong Dam from the Labour Ministry blamed the problem on poor coordination among agencies and the fact too many people were still not using condoms, the state-run newspaper Viet Nam News said.

The newspaper said despite a government programme to tackle the disease in 2007, the number of HIV-infected sex workers in major cities remains high - 20 per cent in Hanoi, 16 per cent in Ho Chi Minh City and 23 per cent in Hai Phong city.

The rate of sex workers infected with HIV/AIDS across the country is likely to be 9.3 per cent, according to a ministry report.

However, only a small rate of sex workers had access to HIV prevention services like free condoms and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), Duong Van Dat of the United Nations Population Fund was quoted as saying.

Dat said in Cambodia, up to 80 per cent of sex workers were using condoms and the incidence of HIV and other STDs had fallen sharply. In Thailand, 100 per cent of sex workers were reported to be using condoms.

The report said part of the problem was that condoms were not easily available in hotels and there were cultural barriers that prevented both sex workers and clients from purchasing them.

According to the Health Ministry, as of September 30, 2010, the country had 180,312 HIV positive people, 42,239 AIDS patients and 48,368 people had died of AIDS.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - April 28, 2011