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Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Project in Viet Nam to Serve Orphans and Vulnerable Children

In Viet Nam, HIV/AIDS is intensely stigmatized and predominantly associated with sex workers and drug users, though heterosexual transmission among the general population is escalating.  The rate of new infections among women is outpacing that of men, and accordingly, more mothers, families, and children are affected by HIV/AIDS. 

Due to this stigma and gaps in the health system, children and families affected by HIV/AIDS have access to very limited and fragmented support services, if any.  In the absence of such services, children with HIV and those who have been orphaned or abandoned because of the disease are often institutionalized.  HIV-positive mothers and affected families rarely have the support systems and financial means necessary to maintain their own health, which in turns diminishes their ability to care for their children.  Placing their children in an institution often appears preferable to subjecting them to a life of poverty and illness.

HealthRight International (formerly Doctors of the World-USA) recently launched a project in Viet Nam to enable families, communities, and health professionals to meet the health and developmental needs of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS, and to prevent child abandonment and institutionalization.  The new initiative, made possible through the generous support of Pact Viet Nam with funding from USAID through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), will replicate and expand HealthRight’s successful MAMA+ Project, building access to community-based care for mothers affected by HIV/AIDS.  The program will include the launch of a pilot foster care program - a first in Viet Nam, where no system of publicly regulated fostering yet exists. 

Replicating models around the world

HealthRight’s MAMA+ Project was first developed and launched in Russia in 2005 to address rising rates of child abandonment by mothers living with HIV.  The successful program was replicated in Ukraine the following year, where a growing HIV epidemic coincided with rising child abandonment rates.  MAMA+ empowers mothers to keep children in the birth family environment by building access to comprehensive medical and social support services, and by giving them the tools to stand on their own feet. 

Now, with the launch of a new project to meet the needs of women and vulnerable children in Viet Nam, HealthRight’s efforts will be bridging not only countries but continents, demonstrating that models for service can be replicated and adapted to a variety of cultural and national contexts.

HealthRight is excited to return to Viet Nam, where we previously worked from 2000 to 2003 to strengthen maternal and child health services for ethnic minorities at rural health facilities in the Mai Chau district.