Reaching out to people who inject drugs in Viet Nam

Pham Thi Hai lives with her husband and young son in Thu Thanh commune, which is nestled in the mountainous region of Thanh Hoa province in central Viet Nam.  Her remote hamlet is 30 kilometers away from the district hospital and separated from the commune health clinic by the great Ma river.

Hai_Pang hamlet

Pham Thi Hai, HIV peer counselor in Thu Thanh commune in central Viet Nam

“It’s difficult to cross the river when it rains,” said Ms Hai. “I visit the commune clinic for my monthly antiretroviral (ARVs) prescription.” The smiley and dynamic ethnic Thai woman found out that she was living with HIV when she became pregnant in 2009. Injecting drugs is popular among the young men in Ms Hai’s hamlet and her husband was no exception.

Initially she had to travel to the district hospital to get her family’s HIV medication and that was tough as the road is rough and it cost her $4 US or more than a day’s salary to pay for the travel. In 2014, an initiative called Treatment 2.0, which encouraged decentralizing HIV treatment was introduced in Ms Hai’s province and that brought ARVs to her commune, making treatment a lot more accessible.

“Now I meet Auntie Doa at the commune clinic. She gives me my ARVs every month. She is also the one who comes to my hamlet to do HIV testing and supports me in my counselling work,” said Ms Hai.

While, she is employed in a chopstick workshop, Ms Hai is also an HIV peer counselor.

Mobile testing_Pang hamlet

Mobile HIV-testing in Thanh Hoa province, Viet Nam

“Many at-risk people are afraid of coming to the commune clinic, so the HIV test has to be done in their homes,” said Ms Hai. “ They are just scared, like I used to be. Many friends of Huy my husband are at risk and his friends are my friends too, so I must help them.”

Aside from HIV counseling, Ms Hai also distributes needles and syringes. When people who inject drugs drop by her house, she advises them to take an HIV test. She says, “If you test positive for HIV you can take ARVs and that helps protect your health and your wife and your children’s health too.”

She also speaks to the men’s wives who often get very emotional when they receive an HIV positive result. She explains, “ ARVS are very good, very helpful, being on ARV treatment will help you live healthier and longer, let’s continue to live healthy lives to take care of our children.”

Ms Hai says her one fear is that she and her husband might die before their son grows up, but she is optimistic about the future. “Being on ARVs keeps me healthy and I feel more relaxed. Now I think more about working and staying in good health for my son.”

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