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World Bank, US Pledge Financial Help for Vietnam - 2004-06-23

The World Bank says it will loan Vietnam $100 million to help reduce poverty and reform its government. At the same time, President Bush is announcing that Vietnam will be included in a $15 billion plan to curb the spread of AIDS around the world.

The World Bank says the $100 million interest-free loan is a reward to Vietnam for its continued reform.

A senior economist for the World Bank in Vietnam, Phan Minh Duc, says the loan is based on the success of poverty reduction initiatives unveiled by the Vietnamese government in 2002.

"The fiscal management is quite reasonable and I think this makes us quite comfortable in moving forward with the approval for the program in Vietnam," says Mr. Phan.

The loan is the third by the World Bank, which first loaned money to Vietnam in 1993. Since then, Mr. Phan says the government has worked with the bank to cut poverty levels in half, from 58 to 29 percent.

"The purpose of the loans is two-fold: one to support a kind of policy dialogue between the government and the World Bank and number two to finance the cost of reforms," Mr. Phan says.

Meanwhile, President Bush is designating Vietnam as the only nation outside of Africa and the Caribbean to share in a $15 billion grant for AIDS prevention and treatment.

The Vietnamese government says 81,000 AIDS cases have been reported, or about one per thousand of the country's 81 million people, The United Nations estimates about twice that number are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Health experts in Vietnam welcomed President Bush's decision, but the move is considered controversial by some who argue that China and India have been harder hit by AIDS. Neither country is included in President Bush's plan.

Dr. Hans Troedsson, Vietnam's representative for the World Health Organization, thinks Vietnam is better situated than other countries to turn financial assistance into results.

"Vietnam has shown a lot of commitment to controlling of HIV/AIDS in the country, both from the minister of health and professional health workers. We could control this epidemic in a very early stage," says Dr. Troedsson

Dr. Troedsson does not deny the need for similar programs in India and China, but says Vietnam's smaller size makes it a better candidate for AIDS education campaigns and care delivery.