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Speaking points of Dr. Kristan Schoultz, UNAIDS Viet Nam Country Director at the conference on development of sustainable community system in prevention and control of HIV/AIDS

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Date: Thursday 25th September 2014
Event: Conference on Development of Sustainable Community System in Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS
Venue: Daewoo Hotel, Ha Noi  

H.E. Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam, Chairperson of the National Committee on AIDS, Drugs and Prostitution Prevention and Control,

Prof. Dang Vu Minh, VUSTA President,

Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thanh Long, Vice Minister of Health,

Colleagues and friends,

Good morning:

First, I’d like to share with you what I’m feeling right now. Being here today reminds me of my very first conference in Viet Nam almost exactly one year ago, when I had only just arrived in Ha Noi – it was with you, the civil society partners working in the response to HIV. And since that time, I’ve learned so much about the many contributions you make to the national response. It feels great to be here with you again my friends, and I am encouraged that we’re exploring together how to achieve a truly sustainable community system that will better support Viet Nam’s response to HIV!  

Thirty years into the global response, it is clear that civil society, including communities living with and affected by HIV, plays a critical role in shaping and delivering the response to the epidemic. This is also true in Viet Nam.

Over the last twelve months, I have learned of your important work in helping people living with HIV, and people at risk of HIV, to access the services that they need. Thanks to your efforts, more and more vulnerable people are being reached by harm reduction programmes, and are getting tested, and when necessary being enrolled in treatment and care.

I also want to recognize your very meaningful engagement in shaping a more effective, more efficient, and more sustainable national response. In particular, I wish to thank you for your active contribution to the development of the HIV Investment Case for Viet Nam. This is a breakthrough initiative of the Ministry of Health’s Viet Nam Administration for HIV/AIDS Control, and it is a powerful tool for making informed decisions to better focus resources on those who have greatest need for HIV services, and where the epidemic is creating the biggest burden. The sharing of your life experiences, as well as your views about the prioritization of HIV services, have really helped to shape and sharpen the focus of this new investment strategy, and will ultimately serve to generate greater impact on the epidemic.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Viet Nam is at a critical moment in the response to HIV. Impressive achievements made over the past 25 years are now seriously threatened by the uncertainties around funding. However, Viet Nam is determined to achieve the global vision of Ending AIDS by 2030. But colleagues, if we are really serious about achieving this ambitious goal, it is now time to switch gears!

The Investment Case shows that only a small portion of HIV prevention expenditure over the past few years went to programmes targeting people who inject drugs, sex workers, and men who have sex with men, even though these groups accounted for over half of all new infections in the same period. It also shows that the coverage of HIV services does not always match the distribution of HIV cases, which means that people in some areas of high need are not being adequately served.

It is critical for Viet Nam to take urgent action to correct these issues, using the available evidence to make more strategic investments, and getting better value for money. This will be every bit as important as increasing domestic resources to ensure the financial sustainability of the national response to the epidemic. And we really have no time to waste.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we consider ways to increase the effectiveness and sustainability of the national response, it is also crucial for policy and programme leaders to seek the views and perspectives of civil society. This is because civil society organizations are working on the front lines of this epidemic. You have an excellent understanding about what works and what doesn’t work, especially when it comes to the provision of prevention services to key populations. But it is clear that civil society can’t do this on its own, and we should not expect you to do so. Evidence from all over the world confirms that what is needed for a truly effective national response is a very strong partnership between Government and civil society organizations, and a shared vision for moving forward together.

But that’s not all. In this changing funding environment, I would like to suggest that civil society also need to challenge themselves to become more effective partners. What you have done to date in support of HIV service provision has been extremely impressive, but we all know that much of your success has been made possible through the generosity of donors, and the abundance of international financial support. Now that we are facing a time of potentially quite severe funding constraints, there will be a need for civil society partners to dig deep, and to be creative in your efforts to maintain the very high quality peer-to-peer services that you are now providing all over the country. Peer-outreach and peer-support are vital for the much-needed scale-up of HIV services, and are particularly important for those services focusing on prevention among key populations.

This will be difficult, but it is not impossible if the Government supports you in your efforts. The development of the Investment Case is one very good example of a close collaboration between the Government and civil society. But we need much more of this kind of collaboration if we are to successfully implement the priority actions outlined in the Investment Case. Again, international experience is clear: the further empowerment of community organizations to play a greater role in HIV service provision will result in improved quality and enhanced effectiveness of HIV services, and will provide long-term benefits in human and social development.   

The evolving funding environment, and the urgent need for much greater effectiveness and efficiency of the HIV response, are a common challenge and are certainly not unique to Viet Nam. We should view this situation as an opportunity for positive change, and UNAIDS and the international community are looking to Viet Nam to become a leader among nations in sustaining the response to HIV in this new context. We believe Viet Nam is heading in the right direction, and can achieve the goal of “Ending AIDS by 2030” so that HIV will no longer be a major health threat to any population of Viet Nam. But this will only be possible if Viet Nam’s leaders take bold and decisive action now, and this includes not only making smart decisions about investment, but also further empowering community organizations to become true partners in the response. We are committed to continue supporting Viet Nam in this vitally important effort.

Let me stop here by thanking you for your invitation to be with you today, and I very much look forward to a fruitful discussion.

Thank you and chuc suc khoe.