Building Grassroots Power and Leadership for Women Living with Hiv/Aids

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The Story of an Decimated Community
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) did not reach Vietnam until 1990 (National Committee for AIDS, Drug and Prostitution Prevention and Control, 2012), but its spread was as fast and expansive as anywhere else in the world. At the beginning, intravenous drug users (IDU) and female sex workers (FSW) were the major deliverers of the epidemic. However, over 20 years, it has ubiquitously infected some other groups, including mobile workers, men who have sex with men (MSM) and sexual partners of these aforementioned. As of today, the epidemic has been fairly concentrated, both among groups, gender-wise, age-wise and geographically. The highest HIV-transmission prevalence rates were found in MSM, IDU and FSW, at 16.7%, 13.4% and 3%, respectively. All 63 provinces and municipalities have reported HIV cases, more than 80% of which includes young patients aged 20 – 39 years old. The ratio of HIV-positive women to men, at the same time, is also slowly yet steadily increasing at 31:69 (Ministry of Health, 2012).

The group of women living with HIV/AIDS, one might presume from all of these demographics, is made up of mostly FSW. The assumption might be more or less accurate. The National HIV Sentinel Surveillance Survey with behavioral component (Ministry of Health, 2011) estimates that many FSW tend to engage in multiple high-risk behaviors, commonly unprotected sexual activities and syringe-sharing drug injection, thus increasing their marginalization to the epidemic. Nonetheless, the survey finds that in 2011, the HIV prevalence among this group has dropped and now remains at the lowest ever (3%), indicating that FSW might no longer be the majority among the HIV-infected women. As a matter of fact, preliminary data from a forthcoming study by UN Women and UNAIDS (2012) suggests that a considerable number of them are singularly infected through intimate partner transmission (IPV), or in other words, by their HIV-positive husbands or long-term partners, most of the time not to their knowledge.

The intervention proposed in this paper is meant to address women living with HIV/AIDS in the urban area of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. This is both a dualistic community and a community of purpose, as defined by Garber (2012). Accordingly, a dualistic community refers to both a community of place (identify by geographic proximity) and a community of choice (defined by social networks and identity groups). It reflects the correlation between the two categories of community – location and vulnerability to HIV transmission. Overall, the epidemic is more heavily concentrated in urban areas, which are also the major operation sites for FSW (National Committee for AIDS, Drug and Prostitution Prevention and Control, 2012). On the other hand, a community of purpose refers to a group of people, whose shared experiences connect and encourage them to take action for change (Garber, 2012). Particularly, the community defined in this intervention captures and thrives on collective support and feminist perspectives, embracing both the homogeneity and discrepancies of each individual. The Multifaceted Oppression

There have been incessant efforts from the government and civil society organizations to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in regard to policymaking, welfare and equal access, and prevention and intervention services. However, parallel to these efforts is an invisible yet tacit war on the people who are living with the diseases – and unfortunately, it is unknowingly manifested by both the government as well as consciously positioned among the public.

For example, over the years there have been numerous national campaigns attempting to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and reduce high-risk behaviors. The goal evidently sounds well-intended, but practically, most of them have been counter-effective because of their unintentional negative portrayals of people living with HIV/AIDS. Particularly, these campaigns...
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