Youth in Vietnam, especially ethnic minority youth in mountainous areas, increasingly face health and social problems as a result of lacking the knowledge and skills of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Vietnam has the highest abortion rate in the world, 83.3 abortions/1,000 women. In 2012, Vietnam had the highest incidence of new HIV infections in mainland South East Asia, and more than one-third of people living with HIV are under the age of 30. The HIV epidemic is growing most rapidly where education is poor, particularly in ethnic minority areas. Many of these problems can be attributed to a lack of comprehensive SRHR/HIV education for young people, who are not provided with the knowledge and skills they need to confidently and effectively protect themselves and others from unwanted pregnancy and infection. Only half of adolescents surveyed were able to correctly identify ways of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV. Young people increasingly engage in pre-marital sex and early marriage and childbirth are common. Poverty and remoteness limit access to information about SRHR. The little SRHR/HIV education available does not incorporate life-skills approaches. The effectiveness of health education programs are compromised by not being linked to quality youth-friendly SRHR/HIV services.
To improve SRH in Vietnam, MCNV has strategies to support ethnic minority adolescents in improving accessibility of SRH education and services. We are now implementing a pilot project in Dien Bien called: “Open Door: improving access to sexual and reproductive health services for ethnic minority youths in Dien Bien high schools”. This three year project is implemented in two target schools, providing high quality life-skills-based SRHR/HIV education for ethnic minority adolescents, enabling them to make responsible choices and decisions regarding SRH and equipping them with the knowledge and skills to engage in safer sexual behaviors. This education is focused on ethnic minority youth in boarding schools and delivered through school-based youth clubs.
Technical guidance is provided by skilled SRHR health workers, teachers and women living with HIV. These clubs also aim to engage young people within the wider community outside the boarding schools, through a variety of innovative communication activities, such as drama, music and sports events. They also utilize social media channels to engage and communicate with young people. By doing this, the knowledge and skills of teachers are strengthened for better communication with young people about the sensitive topics of SRHR.
In the future, MCNV expects to expand the SRH project to other schools in Dien Bien provinces and other provinces in Vietnam. After finishing the pilot project, the technical guidance for teachers would be published and introduced to education networks, from the national level through to district level. The work will also be distributed regionally, in particular through the new Adolescent Health Platform launched in Laos in November 2016.