Lao People's Democratic Republic and Viet Nam: Fighting Sexually Transmitted Infections

Article | 9 August 2012

ADB and World Vision Australia are using media productions as a tool to increase awareness of the risks of sexually transmitted infections among indigenous communities in Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) and Viet Nam.

A young girl runs away from home after arguing with her sister. She ends up working at a karaoke bar to survive. She meets a regular customer and soon falls in love and gets pregnant, only to find out that the man has a sexually-acquired infection. After seeking medical help, the man gets better and both live happily and faithfully together.

This storyline is part of a short film produced by ADB with the assistance of World Vision Australia, an international nongovernment organization, to serve as a tool in mitigating the risks of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission amongst the indigenous Bru and Van Kieu communities living in Savannakhet in Lao PDR and Quang Tri in Viet Nam.

"ADB recognizes both an obligation to mitigate the HIV risks associated with infrastructure projects and an opportunity to contribute strategically and effectively to the fight against HIV and poverty in the region."

-- ADB Project Officer Emiko Masaki

Bru and Van Kieu are ethnic groups that live near and along Route 9, also known as the East-West Corridor of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), where roads have been improved through ADB assistance, bringing economic and social benefits to the people in the region.

However, for the local communities greater mobility has also led to an increase in the risks of acquiring sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV, as contacts with migrant and mobile populations has grown significantly. Because of their low awareness of the problem, limited access to health services, poverty, and some aspects of their customs and traditions, indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to being exposed to HIV and other STIs.

ADB, however, has promptly taken action to address these issues.

"ADB recognizes both an obligation to mitigate the HIV risks associated with infrastructure projects and an opportunity to contribute strategically and effectively to the fight against HIV and poverty in the region," said ADB Project Officer Emiko Masaki.

The program reinforces this year's focus for the International Day of the World's Indigenous People, celebrated every 9th of August, which is "Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices." The theme aims to highlight the importance of indigenous media in challenging stereotypes, forging indigenous peoples' identities, communicating with the outside world, and influencing the social and political agenda.

Colorful narratives

One of the tools used to raise awareness of the risks of STIs among indigenous people are radio programs and short films packaged in DVD formats. Local volunteers helped collect and interpret life stories and traditions from their Bru and Van Kieu communities. These colorful narratives illustrate the lives of young women and men as they face the challenges of social changes.

The narratives were then turned into short films and radio programs used by the local health workers to understand the views of indigenous people, especially in discussing HIV and other STIs. In communities where listening to the radio is widespread, these radio programs were being used to disseminate information on preventing HIV. People were also made aware of availing health services.

There is evidence that this project is changing the indigenous peoples' perceptions of these diseases. In seven mobile check-ups organized through the project, STI counseling sessions were provided to more than 5,000 persons with treatment administered to more than 3,000 among the Bru and Van Kieu communities.

Among the reasons that make these media effective is that the characters, stories, language and even the actors used in the films and radio programs are from Bru and Van Kieu communities. These enabled the viewers to fully understand the message of the film especially in mitigating the risk of STIs and HIV.

"I have learned about my culture and community. Now, I am not so shy anymore. It is about being confident in who I am, and valuing my ethnic background," said Ngoc, one of the actors from the Van Kieu community.

More like this: