WHO commends Vietnam in its pioneering efforts to bring pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to people at HIV risk

30 November 2018

On the eve of World AIDS Day 2018, the Government of Viet Nam is launching today national rollout of PrEP services, in collaboration with its partners. The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomes the decision by Vietnam’s Ministry of Health to offer oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to people at risk for HIV.

The new move is hoped to accelerate the country’s progress in reducing the rate of new HIV infections, which is particularly high among people at HIV risk, including key population groups such as men who have sex with men (MSM).

WHO has recommended the use of PrEP for people at substantial risk of HIV since 2015 as part of a combination HIV prevention strategy that emphasizes regular clinical visits during PrEP use, condom use, and other sexual health services.

Last year, WHO released a PrEP implementation tool to support countries interested in the implementation of oral PrEP. Notably, Vietnam joins Thailand, New Zealand and Australia as the only countries in Asia and the Pacific to provide PrEP under a wider national programmatic approach. Vietnam’s HIV epidemic is concentrated primarily in key populations including MSM, people who inject drugs (PWID), transgender women (TWG), and female sex workers (FSWs).

During the launch, Dr Phan Thi Thu Huong, Vice Director of Viet Nam Authority for HIV/AIDS Control said, “Viet Nam considers the WHO recommendation on PrEP as very timely and relevant. Expansion of PrEP nationwide in Viet Nam will contribute to preventing HIV transmission and achieving the national target on ending AIDS by 2030.”

“We applaud the Ministry of Health of Viet Nam for its leadership in expanding HIV PrE. This is an important step that can help the country cut new infections, said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of WHO Department of HIV. “We hope Viet Nam’s action can serve as a catalyst for other countries to follow, in the region hampered by high HIV rates among key populations.”

Viet Nam has focused on a phased approach for PrEP. Beginning in March 2017, pilot interventions made PrEP available to MSM, transgender women (TWG) and the HIV-negative partners of those diagnosed with HIV in the cities of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

These pilots have been supported by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/PATH Healthy Markets project and UNAIDS through the Center for Applied Research for Men And Community Health (CARMAH).

The pilots have demonstrated that PrEP can be successfully delivered in the local context using different models, while remaining safe, effective, acceptable and feasible, and these results have been used to inform national planning for country-wide PrEP expansion.

According to Dr Van Thi Thuy Nguyen, WHO’s HIV Technical officer, “Viet Nam has been a pioneer in translating WHO recommendations into the national HIV programme. Not only the piloting was successful, the country is now planning to scale-up PrEP in 10 more provinces within 2019. And the step will be vital especially in the context of the emerging HIV epidemics among MSM throughout Viet Nam,” she said.

Viet Nam’s strategy in PrEP integration is to provide PrEP services by a mixed-model of service delivery, which includes public outpatient clinics, private clinics, and associated key population-led civil society organizations. A comprehensive package of national policies, guidelines, and training materials were developed.. So far, more than 2,000 individuals have initiated PrEP under the pilot work in Vietnam.

Most recently, a regional consultation held in Bangkok, jointly organized by UNAIDS, WHO and UNITAID to discuss how countries can move beyond the pilot phase and start national rollout of PrEP services.. Vietnam and 12 other countries participated in this consultation that helped partners work together to develop national roadmaps for the strategic introduction and scale-up of PrEP.

The efforts have been supported by Global PrEP Coalition (GPC), a collaborative platform led by WHO (and financed through a Unitaid grant) to foster global dialogue and collaboration on PrEP.