When Anh* first learned she was HIV-positive, she first thought of taking her own life, but gained a renewed outlook on life because of an HIV counseling and referral program run by the Vietnam Red Cross and supported by the American Red Cross.
Anh contracted the virus from her husband before he died. It was a daily struggle to make ends meet. She was faced with raising two young children alone, and the children had to adjust to a new school; their former one refused to let them in after learning of their mother’s illness.
She meets regularly with other people living with HIV in Thai Nguyen, where she receives counseling. The group was set up by the Vietnam Red Cross to help connect HIV-infected individuals.
“The counseling room has truly changed my life and my destiny,” said Anh. “Not only was I encouraged to vent out my hurt and frustration, I have also received a lot of care and support for my children.”
Thai Nguyen has one of the highest rates of HIV infections in Vietnam, with 531 infections for every 100,000 people. Ninety percent of the HIV-positive peer support group members that Anh meets with are people who inject drugs. The other groups in Vietnam targeted by the program are sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Since 2008, the Vietnam Red Cross program has supported more than 5,500 people like Anh and their families, providing counseling, critical information on living with HIV and referrals, among other services. In addition, the program has forged crucial partnerships with hospitals that provide access to free medicines and treatment to people living with HIV in a stigma-free environment.
“It gives me immense satisfaction to help others in a situation that I was in myself – miserable and afraid of being rejected,” said a Vietnam Red Cross HIV counselor who is also living with HIV. “We provide them with a comfortable space and they are assured of complete confidentiality. I have been seeing the increase in the number of people who come to us. Often they hear about our center from others who have been here.”
The counselor is one of 48 HIV peer counselors recruited and trained under the Vietnam Red Cross program. They are all living with HIV, coming from the most vulnerable groups in Vietnam. They double as peer outreach workers, too, visiting homes of those who are too stigmatized or weak to seek help outside, providing community-based prevention and harm reduction information and referrals, as well as promoting HIV testing.
This year, the American Red Cross is helping the Vietnam Red Cross enhance the program’s monitoring and reporting systems, piloting an enhanced referral system and further strengthening their peer outreach and counseling training program.
The two Red Cross organizations will discuss these efforts and more at next week’s International AIDS Conference, held July 22-27 in Washington, D.C. The Vietnam Red Cross will be presenting on its HIV program and advocating for more services and job training for people who inject drugs – the largest vulnerable group in Vietnam.
* Named changed to protect her privacy.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.