In 1983, Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a French scientist and co-discoverer of HIV, which causes AIDS, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. She made her first visit to Vietnam in 1988, and has since returned to the country more than 20 times over the past 35 years to contribute to HIV prevention efforts.
On November 14, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh hosted Professor Barré-Sinoussi in Hanoi to discuss and explore collaboration between France and Vietnam in HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and prevention of emerging infectious diseases.
During her visit, she spoke with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper about HIV prevention in Vietnam.
Reflecting on her first visit to Vietnam in 1988, Professor Francoise Barré-Sinoussi noted that the country was not yet open to the world at that time.
When she returned in the early 1990s, she found Vietnam unrecognizable and decided to initiate collaboration.
During this time, an epidemic broke out among intravenous drug users in Ho Chi Minh City, which presented a major challenge.
Together with the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, Professor Barré-Sinoussi and her team issued a warning about the presence of HIV in Vietnam.
They conducted a small study on intravenous drug users and faced ethical issues in treating the condition.
While they were confident in their ability to introduce antiretroviral treatment to Vietnam, ethical concerns led them to temporarily suspend the research.
Professor Barré-Sinoussi had a conversation with the head of Vietnam’s AIDS program, expressing the difficulties with intravenous drug users and proposing collaboration on other projects, such as tuberculosis in HIV patients.
The official responded, “Once we are ready and there are no more moral barriers, what I will do is come to you.”
In 2008, just before Professor Barré-Sinoussi received the Nobel Prize, that official reached out and stated that Vietnam was ready.
This marked the beginning of Vietnam’s methadone treatment program for HIV patients.
Professor Barré-Sinoussi commended Vietnam’s progress and transformation from a challenging situation to a state where HIV elimination in intravenous drug users is achievable, setting an example for other regions within Vietnam and beyond.
Goals for Vietnam
Based on her work in the country, Professor Barré-Sinoussi observed that significant improvements are needed in HIV/AIDS prevention in Vietnam.
While Vietnam has made progress in addressing intravenous drug users, certain population groups like men who have sex with men (MSM) still have alarmingly high rates of HIV infection.
Therefore, it is crucial for Vietnam to focus on implementing measures for preventing and treating HIV among MSM.
One of the future goals for Vietnam should be to enhance access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for MSM, she suggested.
Professor Barré-Sinoussi also highlighted Vietnam’s success in skillful intervention negotiation.
This is evident in the differentiated interventions designed specifically for MSM and transgender individuals, making them highly effective.
The integration of testing into community campaigns has significantly improved accessibility and affordability, ensuring that individuals who are unaware of their HIV status can easily access testing.
Once positive cases are identified through testing, treatment and PrEP are implemented for HIV-negative individuals.
Therefore, understanding the needs of specific communities and implementing targeted measures is crucial, emphasized Professor Barré-Sinoussi.
Lastly, she emphasized the importance of anti-stigma measures against people living with HIV.