Vietnam: PEPFAR supports exciting changes in care for injecting drug users (April 2007)


PEPFAR has supported Vietnam's recent steps to address stigma and discrimination and to broaden interventions for injecting drug users (IDUs). Since 2004, PEPFAR's Vietnam team supported advocacy and technical assistance to provide Vietnamese leadership with critical information needed to authorize medication-assisted substitution therapy in the new HIV/AIDS Prevention Control Law. Three study tours to observe methadone therapy in the United States, Mainland China, and Hong Kong helped lay the groundwork, expanding Vietnamese authorities' acceptance of methadone programs in the face of local skepticism.

In April 2005, with technical assistance from PEPFAR, the Hai Phong Department of Health submitted a proposal to implement methadone therapy for drug users who repeatedly failed conventional therapy. To prepare for the anticipated program, 15 local substance abuse counselors were trained; in March 2006, they were among the first Vietnamese to receive international certification in addiction counseling and work with patients on methadone therapy.

On November 15, 2005, PEPFAR and the Government of Vietnam's Central Committee on Science and Education convened a national conference on "Substitution Therapies in Preventing HIV/AIDS," where U.S. Ambassador Michael Marine gave opening remarks. In the following months PEPFAR advocacy included: furnishing publications on medication-assisted therapy to the Ministry of Health (MoH) and other government agencies; promoting acceptance of methadone in meetings with the MoH and provincial HIV/AIDS authorities; providing the Minister of Health a requested methadone fact sheet; and reaching out to numerous officials and clinical personnel.

In June 2006, the Vietnam National Assembly passed its first law to protect the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). This groundbreaking law promotes access for PLWHA to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care services, supports the right to be free from stigma and discrimination, and promotes medication-assisted substitution therapy for drug users wishing to quit.

In a variety of ways, the Emergency Plan strongly supports Vietnam's effort to help HIV-positive people achieve freedom from drugs and a better quality of life. PEPFAR resources support both government programs and programs of faith- and community- based organizations that care for over 40,000 PLWHA in Vietnam. With support from the Emergency Plan, Vietnam's first comprehensive rehabilitation program for IDUs, including medication-assisted therapy, is expected to open in 2007. This will be the first time the USG has supported medication-assisted therapy outside the United States. It is hoped that this program will serve as a model for compassionate care of IDUs throughout East Asia.

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