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Launch of 'Be Me. Be Happy!': A campaign to increase transgender women's access to HIV services in Vietnam

December 12, 2017 by PATH

Media contact: Kate Davidson | media@path.org

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Hanoi, December 12, 2017—Today, leaders and senior officials from Vietnam's Ministry of Health (MoH), the transgender community, the U.S. Embassy, PATH, local authorities, medical professionals, private-sector companies, and celebrities came together to mark the official launch of the Be Me. Be Happy! campaign. The initiative is supported by the Healthy Markets project (funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by PATH) and community leaders to increase transgender women's access to HIV resources and other health information and services.

Historically, efforts to reach transgender women in Vietnam have been closely tied to those for men who have sex with men—but while these two distinct groups come together to advocate for equality, in reality they have separate needs and face different challenges with regards to HIV, safer sex and general health care. Be Me. Be Happy! is the first ever initiative specifically tailored to and informed by transgender women in Vietnam. The aim of the campaign is to provide information that inspires transgender women to seek health services, to train health care workers to offer transgender women respectful and competent services, and provide an additional avenue for transgender women to advocate for their needs.

"The Be Me. Be Happy! Campaign and its butterfly logo represent the metamorphosis that the trans women community is going through in Vietnam: to own our gender, our identity and our promising futures. It is a beautiful platform for trans women to speak out, to care for ourselves and be recognized as our true selves," said Mai Chau, Head of the Vietnam Network of Transgender People.

Globally and locally, there is increasing focus and attention to the unique and important health needs of trans populations. The stigma and discrimination that transgender women experience in their everyday lives places social and legal barriers in the way of health information and care, and is directly connected to their increased risk of HIV, sexually transmitted infections, mental health issues, and alcohol and substance use. Worldwide, approximately 19 percent of transgender women are living with HIV, and compared to the general population, transgender women are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV. A 2015 study conducted in Ho Chi Minh City found that 18 percent of transgender women participants had HIV and 18 percent had syphilis, while a 2016 USAID/PATH study found that only 46 percent were enrolled in health insurance.

"Access to innovative yet essential HIV prevention tools, like HIV lay and self-testing; pre and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP); and affordable, high quality condoms, are key to eliminating HIV in Vietnam," said Dr. Hoang Dinh Canh, Vietnam Administration of AIDS Control (VAAC) Vice-Director. "Recent studies indicate very low awareness and uptake of these in the transgender community. However, surveys also show that once informed, transgender women are willing to use and to a certain extent, pay for HIV testing and PrEP. Be Me. Be Happy! is therefore a much needed campaign that will help inspire transgender women to be healthy, happy and proud of who they are and at the same time actively addressing HIV among those most at risk."

Be Me. Be Happy! will have a strong online presence in the form of a Facebook page, Cô Nàng Gợi Cảm. The page will leverage Healthy Markets' experience in fostering the growth of social networks through the popular Xóm Cầu Vồng page, which has more than 230,000 followers. Like Xóm Cầu Vồng, Cô Nàng Gợi Cảm will provide an open forum to learn about and discuss safer sex, HIV, sexual and other health services. Online communication will be translated into offline HIV service delivery, by coordinating with clinics that provide transgender women services and with transgender women-led civil society organizations.

"The Healthy Markets project is honored to launch Be Me. Be Happy! alongside transgender leaders in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, to advocate for and increase equitable access to HIV and other health services for trans women," said Dr. Kimberly Green, Chief of Party for USAID Healthy Markets. "The trans women that lead this campaign are passionate about and committed to improving the lives, health and wellbeing of their peers."

This pioneering campaign will play a critical role in reaching those most at risk of HIV with crucial information and services, helping Vietnam achieve the 90-90-90 goals and end HIV in Vietnam by 2030.

"Be Me. Be Happy! is truly groundbreaking in Vietnam," said Dr. John Eyres, Director of USAID Vietnam's Office of Health. "The U.S. Government is so proud to be able to bring together the Vietnamese Government, international expertise from PATH, and transgender leaders, to address inequity related to HIV risk and services."

Through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, USAID works closely with the MoH; Vietnam Social Security; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and others, including PATH, to develop an enduring legacy that continues as Vietnam assumes more funding and responsibilities for HIV prevention, treatment, and elimination.

The launch of Be Me. Be Happy! was hosted by the VAAC, USAID and PATH. For more information, please contact Healthy Markets at hma.vietnam@path.org.

About the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient societies to realize their potential. Following 50 years of improving lives through development and humanitarian assistance, USAID continues to partner with countries throughout the world to promote peace, prosperity, and security. Please visit www.usaid.gov or follow https://www.facebook.com/USAID/ for more information. Vietnam specific sites are https://www.usaid.gov/vietnam and https://www.facebook.com/USAIDVietnam .

About Healthy Markets

The Healthy Markets project is a five-year initiative that aims to grow a viable market for HIV-related goods and services capable of meeting the needs of populations facing the greatest risks. Healthy Markets aims to improve the environment for private-sector and social-enterprise engagement and investment; increase demand for HIV-related goods and services; and generate a sustainable supply of quality HIV commodities and services that are accessible and affordable. By growing a market for HIV-related goods and services, Healthy Markets (1) contributes to improved sustainability and country ownership of the HIV response and (2) supports efforts to reduce the HIV incidence, including 90-90-90. Healthy Markets is funded by USAID and implemented by PATH in partnership with the Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population and T&A Ogilvy. PATH works closely with manufacturers, distributors, private health care providers, pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies, national and local-level governments, social enterprises, and community-based organizations.