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Speech by UNFPA Representative Bruce Campbell at the review workshop on the 5-year implementation of sex work prevention in the period 2006-2010 and Plan of Action for Sex Work for the period 2011-2015

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Date: Monday, 27 September 2010
Event: Review workshop on the 5-year implementation of sex work prevention in the period 2006-2010 and Plan of Action for Sex Work for the period 2011-2015
Venue: Duy Tan Hotel, Hue City, Viet Nam
Speaker: Mr. Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Representative, on behalf of the United Nations Country Team

Your Excellency Madame Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs,
Representatives of Thua Thien Hue People’s Committee,
Donors and representatives from international organizations,
Fellow UN colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am very honoured to be here for this important workshop to review the implementation of the sex work programme and develop plans for the next five years. I would like to thank the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and the Thua Thien Hue People’s Committee for organizing this workshop and for giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of the entire United Nations Country Team.

On behalf of the United Nations, I would like to congratulate the Government, and in particular MOLISA, for their strong commitment to listening to the needs of female sex workers, respecting their rights and recognizing the root causes of sex work, as a very sound and inclusive basis for reviewing the Ordinance on Sex Work Prevention and Control.

I am especially pleased to see that women involved in sex work are attending this workshop. We will benefit very much from listening to their views and opinions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When we talk about sex work, we see this issue as more than just the prevention of HIV transmission among a high-risk group. It is a much broader human rights issue. The rights to education, health and income are basic human rights, but due to the stigma and discrimination, some sex workers have trouble to access these services. Poverty, trafficking and violence drive vulnerable people  into the sex trade. By providing support to sex workers to have other livelihood options we are promoting their basic human rights.

The great majority of HIV infections globally are due to sexual transmission and drug use. But while the links between sex work and HIV have been a central concern in prevention and care efforts in many countries, surveys indicate that globally sex workers have inadequate access to HIV prevention services. When it comes to appropriate treatment, care and support sex workers have even more limited access.

In Viet Nam it is estimated that 9.3 per cent of all female sex workers will be living with HIV in 2012. After injecting drug users, and MSM, female sex workers have the third highest HIV prevalence rate. Yet, these women continue to face difficulties accessing the services they need, and to protect themselves and the communities in which they live.   

The national Millennium Development Goal report, launched just over a week ago, reported that while Viet Nam has reached or is on the way to fulfill almost all MDGs, the goal on HIV (MDG 6) is likely to be out of reach by 2015 if access to services is not improved remarkably, especially for these three groups at greatest risk.

Distinguished guests,

In order to overcome the challenges ahead and achieve MDG 6, three things are needed.

Firstly, access to essential services needs to be increased. Sex workers, and their partners and clients, have a right to access comprehensive social and health services without discrimination. According to Vietnamese law, these services are just as open to sex workers as they are to anyone else. Sex workers, their partners and their clients also have the responsibility to access these services. For instance, sex workers, clients and partners of sex workers have a responsibility to have access to information, affordable access to male and female condoms, regular health checks, including screening for HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections, and also follow-up counseling and social support.  

Yet, despite their rights, sex workers face many barriers accessing the services they need. Some of these barriers are due to expense, convenience and knowledge, but most are a result of stigma, discrimination and fear.

For instance, we understand sex workers can face intimidation at the hands of public security officers. We need law enforcement officials to take care they are enforcing all the laws in this area, including the Law on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control. The implementing decree for this law (no. 108) explicitly guarantees the protection of sex workers’ right to access HIV-related services such as HIV testing, counseling and testing, care and treatment and harm reduction interventions for HIV prevention. However, the fear of administrative detention also keeps sex workers from accessing services. In order to increase the service access, and make it into full operation, we need the harmonization of the policy and legal regulations on sex work and the law on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control.

Viet Nam is party to six legally-binding human rights treaties and can also boast one of the finest HIV laws in the world. These laws and treaties pertain to all people including sex workers. Sex workers have the right to access social and health services without discrimination or threat of arrest. They have a right to due process of law. And they have the right to voice their opinions and ideas about the laws and policies that affect them.

The second point I would like to make is that involving civil society in service provision and piloting new approaches are the best ways to increase services. Local non-governmental organizations are well-placed to support high-risk populations, and their track record with sex workers in Viet Nam is strong.

An approach that has been successful in various countries is the ‘one-stop shop’. This model provides many different services in one user-friendly clinic. Based in the community, this clinic can be mobile and could also serve as an alternative to the 05 centres. And Viet Nam certainly needs alternatives to 05 centres, which respond to the rapidly changing social and cultural norms.

Furthermore, we would like to emphasize that HIV harm reduction program such as 100% condom program for sex work, peer education among sex workers, improvement of access of sex workers to the basic social and health services has never been shown to increase sex work.  We urge all stakeholders to increase their support for harm reduction. We welcome the inclusion in the draft 2011-2015 Plan of Action of the development of and piloting of supportive modalities for both the delivery of HIV services to sex workers and support for sex workers to establish alternative livelihoods. This looks like a promising investment in the future.

Thirdly, we need to promote stronger partnerships. We are happy to see that MOLISA is taking the lead to coordinate the efforts of government agencies, civil society organizations, sex workers’ organizations and other partners in addressing sex work. But we need to find a way to involve sex workers more. We need their voices, and once again, we greatly appreciate those of you who have joined us here today. It is critical to build partnerships among those working in health, law enforcement, the judiciary and, again, civil society.

Many women and men enter sex work in an attempt to escape financial hardship. We know, from what they tell us, that when they want to leave sex work they don’t always have an easy way out. Let’s address the socio-economic conditions that are driving more people to enter sex work every day, and trapping them in the trade.

Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the United Nations Country Team, allow me to thank again MOLISA, participants from line ministries, provinces and other organizations for all your hard work leading up to this important workshop, and for the hard work that you will be engaging in over the next two days. We stand ready to support you in this process. It is our great privilege to be included in your efforts to illuminate complex issues and draw the most vulnerable women and men out of the fringes and into a prosperous and healthy Vietnamese society.

Thank you very much for your kind attention. In the spirit of celebrating 1000 years of  Thang Long- Hanoi, I wish you all good health, happiness and success.