Thursday, December 4, 2008

Replicating Models From Russia in Viet Nam

Vietnamese Health Workers and Policymakers Visit Russia to Study HealthRight’s Treatment and Prevention Models

In the latest step in its efforts to bring HIV/AIDS and other services to marginalized populations around the globe, HealthRight International (formerly Doctors of the World-USA) recently organized a groundbreaking study tour for Vietnamese health professionals and government officials to visit and learn from HealthRight’s successful treatment and prevention models in St. Petersburg, Russia.  The study tour is one part of HealthRight’s larger efforts in Viet Nam to build access to HIV services for at risk and marginalized groups, including HIV-affected families and at-risk children and youth.

Study tour participants visited numerous project sites in Russia, with a special focus on HealthRight’s MAMA+ Project, which provides a comprehensive case management model for HIV-positive mothers and their children, as well as the organization’s programs to meet the needs of street and at-risk youth.  The study tour provided participants with a unique opportunity to learn first hand from these successful models of intervention.  Through a range of site visits, seminars, workshops, presentations, information sharing meetings and direct observations, participants were given vital information and the experience necessary to replicate these programs in Viet Nam.        

“The study tour provided participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to build and maintain vital efforts to ensure access to health care for all in Viet Nam,” says Thomas Dougherty, HealthRight Executive Director.  “This is an important step forward in addressing the current lack of services for children and families affected by HIV.”

Participants visited a MAMA+ center where they spent time interacting with project staff and HIV-positive mothers.  They were able to observe the many facets of the program and learn about the challenges these women face.  Through methodology training, participants learned how to implement the MAMA+ Project model and ensure its sustainability.  They were also provided with information on advocacy methods and government policy in Viet Nam.       

Dr. Le Nhan Tuan is the Director of the Hanoi Preventive HIV/AIDS Centre (PAC).  He participated in the study tour to see first hand the results of the MAMA+ Project.  “I am confident that the service models HealthRight has developed in Russia can be used in Viet Nam,” he says.  “I will definitely apply what I learned this week to our work with orphaned and vulnerable children and HIV-positive women.”

Participants also had the opportunity to learn about the continuum of care established by HealthRight for street and at risk children and youth through visits to a HealthRight run drop-in center, overnight shelter, crisis and rehabilitative housing program, and HIV prevention and treatment sites.  Medical and psychological strategies were addressed, as were foster care placements and case management for fragile families. 

“The programs of care and support for street and at-risk children and youth in Russia are much more effective than those in Viet Nam,” says another study tour participant, Ms. Do Thi Thanh Nhan, Coordinator of the Viet Nam Women’s Union Women, AIDS and Reproductive Health Center based in Hanoi.  “I look forward to applying these models in Viet Nam, where the number of street and at-risk children and youth is also very high.” 

Combating Stigma and Building Access to Care

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 now affected by HIV/AIDS.

Due to 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 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 and children affected by HIV/AIDS.  The program, implemented with key local partners including the Viet Nam Women’s Union, Bright Futures Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, and the Ban Mai Self Help Group, will include the launch of a pilot foster care program - a first in Viet Nam, where no system of publicly regulated fostering yet exists.

* From 1990 to 2009, HealthRight International was know as Doctors of the World-USA.