Day 1 with Australian Parliamentarians and the Global Fund in Vietnam, briefed on great progress on TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS

By Maree Nutt, CEO RESULTS Australia

Last time I was in Vietnam was as a young(ish) physiotherapist on holidays over twenty years ago. My memory goes back to the non-stop humidity, joining groups doing early morning Tai Chi (I was an instructor at the time), fascinating ancient and modern history and more motorbikes than I thought could fit on one road.

Twenty years on I’ve built a family and had a career change. And I feel incredibly honoured to be able to represent RESULTS and join seven Australian parliamentarians on a delegation to Vietnam. The purpose of the delegation is to visit and learn about programs funded in part by Australian aid through the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund).

First impressions?

The humidity remains (a sweltering 39 degrees) and so do the motorbikes (but many more cars now).

Like many countries in Asia, Vietnam has made impressive economic progress in the last 20 years, but some regions and groups in the population are still vulnerable to poverty and diseases and we will visit some of them over the next few days.

Today was all about introductory briefings from key officials at the National Lung Hospital in order to paint a picture of enormous progress in the fight against AIDS, TB and Malaria and the critical role the Global Fund has played.

For example for in 1991 there were 1 million cases of malaria and 5,000 deaths each year. Today those statistics have plummeted to 17,000 cases and only 5 deaths per year. Over the last 10 years alone the Global Fund has supported the distribution of 4.8 million insecticide treated bed nets in Vietnam.

Vietnam ranks 12th amongst the 22 countries with the highest burden of tuberculosis (189 cases for every 100,000 people) yet in this area also, it is making great progress. The mortality rate from TB in Vietnam is falling 4% every year (compared with the global average of 1.5%) and has one of the highest cure rates of any country for multi-drug resistant TB. The Global Fund currently provides 66% of all national TB funding to Vietnam.

The long-term ambition of the National strategy on TB control is to reduce the TB mortality and prevalence to less than 20 per 100,000 by 2030.

The first case of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam was detected in 1990 and there are now 220,000 people living with HIV with 100,000 on anti retro viral therapy. The major challenges are to limit the expansion of the epidemic from the most-at-risk populations, such as injecting drug users and sex workers, to the general population and how to cater for the growing number of people who need care and treatment as a result of a rapid increase of HIV incidence during the 1990s.

Although the number of new HIV infections and HIV related deaths are reducing, the absolute number of people with HIV/AIDS continues to rise. This is most concerning given that one major health donor (the World Bank) is no longer providing support and ongoing and major funding from USAID is also in doubt.  This will leave a large responsibility for the Global Fund which  is already providing funds to enable 40,000 people receive life saving anti-retroviral therapy.

It’s pretty clear that strong political will from the Vietnamese Government is driving progress on health issues such as HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria and the Global Fund has a critical role to play in Vietnam as well as the Asia Pacific region more broadly where it invests US$1 billion every year.

I’m looking forward to exploring, with the seven parliamentarians, the difference that Global Fund has made in Vietnam and why supporting the Global Fund is a smart investment of Australian aid. From what I’ve heard so far and in the words of one parliamentarian, the results are ‘very impressive’.