ISDS’ works in this area started in 2002 with a ground-breaking research “Understanding HIV-Related Stigma and Discrimination in Vietnam”, collaborated with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and funded by the USAID. The research is unique as it has traced the root causes of stigma and discrimination (S&D) from the discourse of ‘social evils’ and suggested delinking HIV from it.
In response to a request from the International Labour Organizations and the United Nations Development Programme, ISDS conducted another study on HIV-related S&D in the workplace, and findings of the research were disseminated in the United Nations system.
Also on the issue of S&D, from 2006, with funds from USAID and PEPFAR, the Institute collaborated with ICRW and Horizons to undertake an intervention research aiming at reducing S&D in health care settings.
In two years 2009 and 2010, with support from PEPFAR through Pact International and UNPFA in Vietnam, ISDS has conducted research on the reproductive and sexual health of PLHIV. This research involved PLHIV throughout the process of designing, tool development, data collection and analysis and dissemination.
Since very first days of its foundation, ISDS has consistently been active in advocating for rights of people living with HIV and AIDS and reduction of HIV-related S&D. The strength of ISDS’ advocacy lies in empirical evidence yielded from research and choice of partners. For example, the Institute has collaborated with the Central Commission for Education and Communication of the Vietnamese Communist Party to build capacity for the Party’s organizations and the mass media in their works to reduce stigma and discrimination (S&D) against PLHIV. Two important documents produced through this collaboration include an anti-S&D guideline of Party for mass media and party educators, and a toolkit for actions. The guideline and the toolkit have been used nationwide by various organizations at central and local levels, strongly inspired researchers, health professionals, media professionals, NGO and CBO workers and community leaders and members actively engaged in actions reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.
Exhibitions organized by ISDS for paintings by artists living with HIV and photos of PLHIV became high-profiled events with a lot of media coverage, which helps to spread the message and catch the attention of policy-makers and public.
The Institute’s has been actively involved in the process of advocacy for S&D to be included in the 2006 AIDS Law, which strongly commits to the protection of PLHIV’s rights, and continues to have an impact in keeping S&D high in the agenda of the national response.
The success of these activities has secured further successive funds from the U.S. Presidential Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to continue, including intervention programs carried out at communes in both North and South of Vietnam in 2006-2008. In the period of 2009-2011, ISDS and its U.S partner, the International Center for Research on Women continued to receive funding from PEPFAR to carry out an evaluation of S&D activities among PEPFAR partners and after that to develop strategies to reduce HIV related S&D submitted to PEPFAR in Vietnam. Within this project, toolkits guiding action for reducing S&D toward drug users and sex workers were also successfully developed. A series of training and sensitization workshops using the toolkits were conducted for PEPFAR partners. Participants of these training sessions and workshops highly valued the training and the toolkits. Many exercises within the toolkits were used by various NGOs and CBOs in their own training activities.
With the support of the Ford Foundation, from 2003 to 2010, the Institute in partnership with the Bright Future Network – the largest network of PLHIV in Vietnam has been able to create special channels to communicate with PLHIV community and those who work in this field. JVnet Daily – the bilingual email-based newsletter is sent daily to nearly 2,000 concerned subscribers whose work focuses on HIV. JVnet Monthly – a paper-based newsletter – is distributed to those who don’t have internet access. Living with HIV is a quarterly magazine – written for and by PLHIV – have reached almost all groups of PLHIV, and service delivery points for PLHIV in the country. In 2009, the website Living with HIV – for PLHIV has been launched and became soon well known among PLHIV and people working on HIV across the country.
The strength of ISDS’ efforts in HIV communication is in the efforts to bring professional journalists and PLHIV together – for one to have a better understanding of the epidemic and people living with it, and the other to learn how to express themselves, and make their voice heard.
To reach the national audience, ISDS’ collaboration with the Vietnamese National Television resulted in a number of roundtable discussions and talks as well as reports, all aiming at the reduction of S&D and promotes rights of PLHIV.
Capacity-building and community development
ISDS has helped to build capacity for Party and government organizations at both the national and sub-national levels throughout Vietnam through training of HIV and S&D.
For health providers, based on intervention research at four hospitals in Quang Ninh and Can Tho, ISDS also produced a toolkit and booklets for health providers to support them to improve care and treatment of PLHIV through reduction of stigma and discrimination. In a related move, from 2005 to 2010, the Institute operated its counseling program for PLHIV at Dong Da Hospital in Hanoi as a component of the ARV treatment program run by ESTHER with support of the French Government.
Within the intervention project to reduce HIV related stigma funded by PEPFAR in the period of 2006-2008, ISDS produced and disseminated information booklet on HIV and S&D; and organized talks and training on the issues for teachers and students in various schools at Cam Dong commune, Cam Pha district, Quang Ninh Province and in Cai Khe commune, Can Tho City.
One of the most important institutional capacity building activities that the Institute has provided so far is support to the Vietnamese Civil Society Partnership Platform on AIDS (VCSPA) from its conception – by sharing staff time, providing legal and administrative assistance, and physically hosts VCSPA. VCSPA’s goal is to increase the meaningful participation of civil society into the national response to HIV/AIDS. Its membership consists of over 100 civil society groups and organizations, many of them are self-help groups of PLHIV. By supporting VCSPA, ISDS is supporting PLHIV groups to partner with other segments of civil society, to have a collected and stronger voice, to join more coordinated efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and to gain a position that they deserve in the national response.
Capacity building for CBOs of PLHIV, men who have sex with men, drug users and sex workers has been intensively carried out within the Global Fund Project which ISDS has been implementing since the second half of 2011. This 5-year project is supporting the formation and development of clubs, self-help groups of PLHIV, men who have sex with men, drug users and sex workers in 5 provinces including Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Hai Duong, Vinh Long and Can Tho. The main purpose is to empower those groups to protect their rights and support them to participate more effectively into national HIV prevention programs.