Peer educators help reduce spread of HIV in high risk group

July 1, 2011

  • The first case of HIV infection in Vietnam was detected in 1990 in Hồ Chí Minh City
  • Total AIDS patient alive: 44,701 by March 11
  • Total deaths from HIV: 49,912 by March 11

Ho Chi Minh City, July 1, 2011 - Every evening, Nguyen Thanh Lam starts packing his bags and going out to meet his clients. Just like any salesman doing his job.

The difference is that his clients are drug users, sex workers and any one prone to HIV infection. It means he has to go to high risk places where his clients work, sometimes, being intimidated by them, and a lot of the time being misunderstood by his acquaintances. But it just can’t stop this once drug-addict from what he is doing, as he wants to do something to his peers.

Like Lam, Le Thi Hong Yen faced family boycott when she decided to act as a peer educator on HIV. Her sister and brother in law refused to talk to her unless she quitted what she was doing. But she decided to keep on what she was doing merely because she believes in the value brings to society by her work.(Video interview & transcript).

Recognizing the impacts of peer educators’ works, the World Bank has included a component on using peer educators to its HIV AID prevention project.

The project has recognized that face to face communications, especially through the peer to peer methodology is the most effectgive and principal methods of communicating messages relating to HIV, especially with regard to reaching the high risk groups.

This fact is also confirmed by the Vietnam HIV/AIDS Prevention Agency, that has been trying many different methods to clamp down the HIV infection rate.

According to Dr. Chu Hong An, Deputy Director General of the Agency, there are currently more than 5000 registered peer educators nationwide that have received training and are now active in convincing the community about the risks related to prostitution and drug use.

Thanks to their efforts, the HIV infection rate among drug users has reduced from 30% in the year 2000 to just 18% last year, meaning thousands of drug users have been saved from the risk of HIV infection that could otherwise been the case.

To further enhance the effectiveness of peer educators’ work, with the Bank’s support, a forum has been designed and held bi-annually for them so that they can meet, exchange experience in approaching clients, transferring experience and to have fun together. Nguyen Thanh Lam and Le Thi Hong Yen are two of the faces appeared at this forum and presenting their own experiences to their peers.

“Peer educators’ activities are important in the sense that it help prevent the spread of HIV AIDs,” says Dr. Do Hong Kien, Director Lam Dong Province HIV/AIDS Prevention Center. “Peers educators share the same background with their clients, and so they understand each other and can find the way out while no other can. Through their works, the society understand and appreciate their work. They are very enthusiastic and responsible. They all think that this work helps their peers, and contribute to society’s efforts for HIV preventions, and that this is a humane thing to do.” (Video interview)

“In short, peer educators can do things that others can't,” says Dr. Lai Kim Anh, Director of Can Tho City HIV/AIDS Prevention Center.