Just like many other places around the world, here in Vietnam, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) team is commemorating World AIDS Day on December 1. As a tradition over the past several years, PEPFAR’s public diplomacy outreach takes place through multiple events across Vietnam, ranging from HIV/AIDS awareness concerts, photo exhibits and television shows, to drama performances and movie screenings.
PEPFAR continues to be the cornerstone of the U.S. Mission’s health diplomacy effort to strengthen diplomatic relations with the host government and the Vietnamese people since formal relations resumed in 1995. In Vietnam, people living with HIV/AIDS routinely face significant stigma and discrimination. Injecting drug use is the leading contributor to the transmission of HIV here, followed by transmission among sex workers and men who have sex with men. Through our public diplomacy efforts, we try to show the general public that ignoring or discriminating against these key populations not only increases their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other diseases, but it also does not reflect Vietnam’s tradition of accepting people from all walks of life.
In Vietnam, our public diplomacy activities take place throughout the year, with an aim to break barriers in stigma and discrimination against those most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. In May, I was pleased to open the first performance of Six Colors of the Rainbow in Hanoi; this was PEPFAR Vietnam’s first-ever observation of International LGBT Day, about the story of a gay man pressured to marry to maintain his family lineage, and of the struggle to maintain his relationship with his boyfriend.
This year, we also hosted a summer outdoor concert with Vietnam’s leading hip-hop troupe, Big Toe, in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Our Deputy Chief of Mission, Claire Pierangelo, mesmerized the local community by rapping “Vietnam says No to AIDS!” in Vietnamese, drawing cheers and applause from the crowd. A few weeks later, Consul General An Le rapped in a similar show in Ho Chi Minh City, immediately connecting with youths in the auditorium. Both shows promoted the launch of the national 100% Condom Use Program.
Our public events to commemorate World AIDS Day not only raise awareness and remember those who have died of AIDS, but also celebrate those who are living positively. This month, PEPFAR and the Ho Chi Minh City local government hosted a soccer tournament for Methadone patients. It was a fun and lively event, with an aim to demonstrate to the public and media that patients on Methadone treatment, all of whom were former drug users, are now healthy and leading productive lives thanks to access and treatment initiation. It also underscored the significance of the treatment program in HIV/AIDS prevention among people who inject drugs, who remain our most at-risk population for HIV transmission.
Final preparations are shaping up for a large outdoor concert in Hanoi in celebration of World AIDS Day. The concert promotes Vietnam’s national action month for HIV on the theme “Know Your Status.” At the event, senior U.S. and Vietnam diplomats, along with celebrities in show-biz, will take an HIV test. Publicized HIV testing of such high profile dignitaries will send a clear and strong message to the public about the importance of knowing one’s HIV status and fighting stigma. It also reinforces the critical leadership role of the Government of Vietnam in guiding the response to the epidemic. Fighting HIV/AIDS is a shared responsibility across the community, government, and private sector.
This World AIDS Day, we celebrate the courage and commitment of all Vietnamese living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.