Helping Vietnamese youth protect themselves from HIV


Students at Hoang Quoc Viet upper secondary school in Quang Ninh ProvincePham Xuan Tung talks eagerly and takes notes for his group during a biology lesson on HIV transmission and the virus’ replication in blood cells. This new type of highly interactive class is something Tung, a student at Hoang Quoc Viet upper secondary school in Dong Trieu District, Quang Ninh Province, clearly enjoys.

The class is based on a new, integrated reproductive health and HIV prevention curriculum for secondary school students that is being developed and piloted by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), with support from the United Nations and Save the Children in Viet Nam. Many students of Tung’s age in Quang Ninh Province, Quang Tri Province and Ho Chi Minh City are receiving the new pilot curriculum.

A comprehensive national HIV prevention curriculum

The ultimate goal of this support is to ensure that all Vietnamese young people, not just Tung and his peers in the pilot programme, can best protect themselves from HIV. “I have seen a positive change in the participation of students in my class. The new teaching and learning method allows room for every student to speak up, and they are much more responsive,” said Tung’s teacher Truong Thi Hoa. “I hope this learning method and the training for teachers and student’s parents will help young people be more willing to talk openly about HIV and related issues and thus better protect themselves.”

The new curriculum for secondary schools nationwide draws on UN-supported work in Vietnamese schools, including healthy living and life skills programmes, reproductive health and HIV prevention initiatives, and pre-service training programmes for teachers on HIV. It integrates reproductive health and HIV into core lessons and extra-curricular activities for secondary schools, and includes special training for parents so that they can better discuss HIV and reproductive health issues with their children – subjects that can be particularly sensitive and difficult to address for many Vietnamese families.

In order to achieve this unified HIV curriculum, three UN agencies – UNICEF, UNFPA and UNESCO with support from UNAIDS – have been working together since 2008 as part of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS under the framework of UN reform, together with Save the Children, to support the development and institutionalization of the curriculum.

As part of the process, the UN funded a review of all existing curricula in Viet Nam and provided advice to MOET on best practices in other countries in HIV prevention education. The resulting combination of local and global experience contributed to a more comprehensive curriculum. A related change was a shift towards more dynamic teacher-student and parent-child relationships to facilitate better guidance for youth on reproductive health and protecting themselves from HIV.

“This is a unique experience with the UN I’ve never seen elsewhere,” said Ms. Lisa Sherburne, an HIV specialist with Save the Children. “We can continue with the curriculum development because of this joint effort [by the UN agencies]. It allows more resources, more cohesive actions and more powerful voice to the Viet Nam education sector,” she added. “I think the UN in other countries should have the same model.”

The changes are all aimed at integrating HIV prevention into the next national curriculum framework and new textbooks to be developed by the ministry and approved by the National Assembly in 2015.

However, many challenges still remain on the road to this big milestone. The ministry needs strong political leadership as well as greater capacity for planning and coordination, sufficient resources, teachers with better capacity, and effective intra-ministry and multi-sectoral coordination to turn their wishes into reality.

A coordinated and concerted response to HIV by the education sector

Coordination is the other key area in the education sector response where support from the UN is helping make a difference.

“Our biggest challenge is how to facilitate the close collaboration among departments in the ministry and among ministries related to the education sector response to HIV,” says Mr. La Quy Don, vice director of MOET’s Department of Student Affairs, the focal department on health education (including HIV) within the ministry.

Last year MOET leaders requested support from the UN to establish an inter-departmental coordination committee on HIV. The UN supported a MOET delegation headed by Vice Minister Nguyen Vinh Hien to visit Cambodia to learn from their experiences in coordinating the national education sector response to HIV. The study visit provided the delegation with many in-sights, and work to establish a similar committee for MOET has gained momentum. High-level discussions with participation of MOET leaders, UN heads of agencies and representatives of related departments within the ministry have been held to determine the committee’s charter, organizational issues and tentative workplan for 2010.

“It’s very heartening to see the committee taking shape,” said Vice Minister Nguyen Vinh Hien. “This is the clear impact of the UN working as one with our ministry. Greater UN coherence has motivated us to strengthen out internal coordination. This committee will help us avoid duplication, address potential gaps and have a better overview of the sector response to HIV. I can see the UN is better meeting the demands of the education sector,” he added.

Strong commitment and leadership have been shown by MOET, but additional support is needed to realize the vision of a sector-wide response. This will again be a joint effort in which the UN – particularly UNICEF, UNFPA, UNESCO and UNAIDS – will work with other development partners such as Save the Children.

“We are committed to providing joint support for policy-making, enhanced coordination and implementation of several key aspects of the education sector’s response to HIV,” said Mr. Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS Viet Nam Country Director.

The ultimate goal of this support is to ensure that all Vietnamese young people, not just Tung and his peers in Hoang Quoc Viet School, can best protect themselves from HIV.