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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

‘Smile of the Sun Center’ For HIV-Affected Families Opens in Hanoi

New center provides access to care, support, and other crucial services in a safe, respectful environment

HANOI, VIETNAM – In a crowded, dusty neighborhood in this expansive city of over three million, a bright yellow building in a courtyard stands as a beacon of hope for some of society’s most vulnerable – families living with and affected by HIV.  The building contains the Smile of the Sun Center, developed by HealthRight International and its local partners to provide children and families affected by HIV with access to care, support, and other services in a safe, respectful environment.

Those who travel here from the surrounding neighborhoods and from throughout the city come for a variety of reasons.  Some come so their children can play and learn, some for counseling and advice, others for help accessing health care and other services.  Most importantly, all have come for acceptance, and for an opportunity to cast off the weight of stigma that pervades the daily lives of people living with HIV in Vietnam.

The Smile of the Sun Center is the latest initiative in HealthRight’s ongoing efforts to build lasting access to health care and other social services for families living with and affected by HIV, and to combat the stigma that surrounds the virus.  The Center provides a range of services, including case management, referral, counseling services, emotional support, and advice on health, nutrition, child development, and caring for children living with and affected by HIV.  Since February 2009, weekend art, pre-school, and music classes have been conducted by volunteer college students and an artist from one of the project’s key local partners – the Bright Futures Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. 

HealthRight’s project in Vietnam builds upon the organization’s experience developing the MAMA+ Project, first created and launched in Russia in 2005 to address rising rates of child abandonment by mothers living with HIV, and since replicated in Ukraine.  With the launch of a new project to meet the needs of caregivers and vulnerable children in Vietnam, HealthRight’s efforts are bridging not only countries but continents, demonstrating that models for service can be replicated and adapted to a variety of cultural and national contexts.