Twenty five men and woman are gathered in a small open-air building in a rural commune several hours north of Hanoi in Vietnam. Sitting closely on long wooden benches, they brainstorm and jot ideas on large pieces of paper, as a woman in a Red Cross vest makes her way from table to table, answering questions. This is part of a home-based care training for family members of people living with HIV, funded by the American Red Cross.
The province of Thai Nguyen, which has the fourth highest rate of HIV infections in the country, faces many challenges in dealing with HIV and the people it impacts.
As part of comprehensive HIV programming implemented by the Vietnam Red Cross, home-based care training allows family members to learn about the disease and how to care for loved ones who are living with it. Half a day is spent learning about the disease itself, many myths still exist about transmission and its spread. The second half focuses on the skills needed to take care of family members living with HIV. In total, the training will reach about 750 participants. Overall project activities, including peer counseling, behavior change communications and these types of trainings, will reach 19,000 people per year.
A 56-year-old woman whose 20-year-old son is HIV+—and has already benefited from other Red Cross project interventions—attended the session.
“When we found out, I was so upset,” she said. “My husband and I wondered why we didn’t have HIV instead of my son. His friends stayed away from him; it was so sad. I would do anything for my son, which is why I wanted to participate in this training. It makes me happy because not only is it helpful information for my family, but now that I have knowledge, I can share what I’ve learned with others.”
The training is run by Nguyen Thi Hang, who is HIV+ herself and the lead member of a group of 12 Vietnam Red Cross counselors that work throughout the province. Although the work can often be overwhelming with such limited resources—8,500 people in the province are HIV+, and this number is just those that have self-identified—she feels “no one can do this job better than us.”
Since discovering she was HIV+ in 2002 when her newborn child was diagnosed with HIV, Hang has been determined to turn her depression and grief into something positive for the many others in her community. In addition to the work she does around home-based care she also works on an American Red Cross income generation program teaching sewing to people living with HIV. These livelihood programs, which also includes poultry raising, have increased incomes for people living with HIV by approximately $80 per month – a significant improvement given that average monthly incomes are only $50.
“In Vietnam, many people think if you are HIV+ you are a criminal,” she said. Stigma is one of the biggest challenges in the country and those who are open about their status find it can be a major obstacle for employment. That’s being able to provide these opportunities are is critical to Hang.
“I really like this work,” said Hang. “There are many people with my same situation. I can share my story and learn theirs. Working with the Red Cross, I have received lots of training and have been able to be useful to my community. I am helping people learn about preventing the spread of HIV, overcome stigma and take care of themselves. I feel very lucky.”
For more information about the Red Cross work in on HIV, visit: ifrc.org.
Watch Into the Light, a video by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent on HIV work in Asia Pacific.