There is no one size fits all approach to effective harm reduction. It’s vital that interventions consider region-specific situations and key populations. That’s why ViiV Healthcare is proud to work with the Centre for Supporting Community Development Initiatives’ (SCDI) project: the Community Field Lab for Stimulant Harm Reduction (C-FLASH) in Vietnam, a country that faces different harm reduction challenges compared to other parts of the world.
In Vietnam, most young people who take drugs use stimulants, mainly methamphetamine, not heroin. Recent research conducted by SCDI, suggested 80% of meth users report unsafe sexual practices making them vulnerable to contracting HIV.2 With stigma and discrimination a major barrier to advice and treatment for people living with HIV, particularly those who use drugs, delivering tailored intervention packages is key to reducing new cases of HIV in Vietnam. However, current harm reduction programmes focus solely on people who inject drugs, such as needle exchange programmes. SCDI is the exception.
With support from Positive Action, SCDI runs the Stimulant Field Lab, a regional expertise and learning centre for stimulant harm reduction, based in Hanoi. SCDI develop intervention packages on harm reduction, chemsex and mental health, and train facilitators who educate outreach workers on how to deliver these interventions to clients. Crucially, training includes learning how to build clients’ trust, with participants taught to encourage safer and reduced drug use, rather than pushing clients to stop taking drugs altogether.
Through this approach, outreach workers gain the skills and confidence to provide accessible harm reduction guidance through peer-to-peer counselling within a safe and trusted environment, improving the health and well-being of stimulant users. As a result of the Positive Action grant, in 2022 SCDI trained more than 50 outreach workers in this way, who reached nearly 260 stimulant users which are typically harder to reach due to the levels of self-stigma experienced. SCDI’s aim is to reach 600 stimulant users by the end of 2023.
“The Positive Action grant is very meaningful to the Vietnamese and South-East Asian context and truly appreciated as the experiences and competencies of harm reduction services for stimulant users that the Field Lab is building is severely lacking in the country and region” Trang Nguyen Minh, Programme Manager at SCDI
South-East Asia is the second largest market globally for methamphetamine production and drug use. SCDI’s training package provides a blueprint that can be mirrored by neighbouring countries as well as throughout Vietnam more widely, with the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of many people who use stimulants across the region.