Ha Noi (Viet Nam), 10 February 2021 – A UNODC initiative marked a critical step forward in the implementation of HIV harm reduction in Viet Nam around a decade ago, when the very first doses of methadone were administered in the country through the Opioid Substitution Therapy programme. Today, a brand new UNODC programme to be launched early this year, promises to expand its predecessor’s reach by offering take-home methadone doses.
The increase in autonomy afforded to people who use drugs through take-home doses delivered to their doorstep, will enable clients in Viet Nam to improve their quality of life.
“When receiving news about take-home doses in Dien Bien, me and my family were very happy,” explains a 32-year-old male client from Dien Bien province. “I started methadone therapy in 2012 and thanks to it, I was able to give up injecting heroin and have had a job in a house painting company since then. However, the fact that I have to travel to a dispensing clinic everyday often made me late for the job.”
The elimination of transportation costs and commute time associated with in-person visits at methadone clinics, means that the take-home doses will not only help improve the lives of people with substance use disorder – but will also have a positive impact on their families and the community.
“Vietnam has a quite successful methadone treatment programme, expanded to all of 63 provinces,” explains Dr. Hoang Dinh Canh, Deputy Director of VAAC. “However, we can keep only 52,000 patients on treatment out of the cumulative 160,000. As we understand it, geographical and transportation issues remain the biggest barriers for service retention.”
The new UNODC-led programme –guided by the UNODC/WHO/UNAIDS comprehensive package on HIV prevention treatment and care services– will be initially introduced as a pilot scheme across three provinces early this year; while the Office continues to provide ongoing technical support for harm reduction strategies throughout the country.
The community of healthcare workers have emphatically welcomed the introduction of the new scheme. Among them, is Dr. Tran Thi Len, a physician from Thuy Nguyen Methadone Clinic in Hai Phong City: “I was very excited when hearing about take-home methadone doses. I believe this is a very good solution, good for us as service providers and especially good for my clients.”
UNODC and UNAIDS joined forces to spearhead this new initiative, playing a pivotal role in the formulation of technical guidelines for operating both in-person and take-home methadone programmes. The take-home methadone programme is now breaking down barriers for clients who would otherwise be unable to remain in treatment. Not only is it empowering for people who use drugs, but also seamlessly compatible with the more recent COVID-19 restrictions on movement.
In fact, clients’ desire for ongoing delivery services within the existing methadone programme, combined with the strict social distancing rules enacted due to the pandemic, became the key drivers for garnering the political support needed for the approval of nationwide delivery services.
The nationwide expansion of the programme will also represent a step forward for HIV prevention, treatment and care among people who use drugs in the Southeast Asian country. An achievement made possible by close cooperation and the contributions of several entities along the years; including Harm Reduction International, INPUD, and countless CSOs.
Increased collaboration among stakeholders will bolster the further expansion of HIV and harm reduction programmes throughout Viet Nam. Cooperation will pave the way towards effective replication; implementing similar strategies in other countries.