context: although economy is poor, Vietnam’s health care services are more advanced than those of many other developing countries. The death rate of infants and children has declined sharply in recent years, presumably as a result of providing health education and primary health care services more widely. The Ministry of Health has expanded the system of primary health care services throughout the country. Almost all have their own health stations staffed with trained workers.
why: still, several surveys show that young people are not well informed on reproductive health issues. Vietnamese society is in general not very judgmental about young people’s sexuality, but there are strong taboos about discussing it openly. What follows is an example on how prevention and information can become a fun interactive play in order to open the dialogue and educate youth to reproductive health.
what: imagine that, arriving at school, instead of your ‘usual’ teacher, you find a team of actors specialised in reproductive health and rights. Imagine that the class starts with somebody asking “So, how many kinds of love do we know?” Well, this is what is happening in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
how: thanks to a partnership between a Dutch/Vietnamese NGO and the Educational Board of Hanoi, a group of young actors performs its plays related to reproductive health twice a week in various junior high schools around Hanoi. Once the play is over, the actors remain to answer questions. Usually students hesitate for a moment but then approach the actors with questions on reproductive health or to seek their help in solving personal problems that are scarily similar to what was featured on stage.
getting informed: the actors refer students to appropriate services or counselling. In Hanoi there is only one place where young people can go for answers on reproductive health questions and services: the ‘Reproductive Health Centre for Young People’, a UNFPA-funded initiative. Located on a busy street next to a high school, the centre has a discreet, anonymous entrance. It can also be entered through an adjacent bookshop for those who do not want to risk being seen visiting the facility. The atmosphere at the centre is warm and welcoming. “Counselling is the most important part of our work, giving information and helping young people to deal with problems,” says the Centre’s enthusiastic director, Dinh Thi Hong Minh.
Not surprisingly, the most frequently asked questions at the centre concern adolescent development, especially relationships. The centre, which is part of an EC/UNFPA programme to help improve the reproductive health of young people, offers a complete array of contraceptives and medical services. It also offers HIV testing and provides services for HIV positive young people.
Sustainability means living in a way that doesn’t waste our resources: our lives at first!. Safe, responsible sex means fewer unwanted pregnancies, lower AIDS rates, the chance of staying in school - being a contributor to social progress and not a burden on it.