Life in Hanoi – Week Two

Vietnam Man
(Man in village of Dai Bai)

I’m now twelve days into my two-year stint in Hanoi and am loving every minute of my stay! I’m starting to gain a better understanding of my job as well as the HIV epidemic in Vietnam. Unlike the generalized epidemic in Malawi, in which prevalence rates of HIV hover around 12% of the population, here it’s a concentrated epidemic among injection drug users, commercial sex workers, and men who have sex with men. As such, prevalence rates of HIV in the general population remain somewhat low, at 0.43%. Yet, with a population of 85.7 million people, it’s important to contain the epidemic before it becomes more widespread.


The PEPFAR team in Vietnam also differs slightly from Malawi – the Peace Corps is not represented in-country but Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) plays a larger role. In fact, last week I attended Family Health International’s launch of it’s Drug Addiction Counseling Curriculum (funded via PEPFAR) – a program promoting change in drug addiction counseling practices in Vietnam by introducing behavioral therapy methods, including counseling and psychosocial support; and by refocusing the counseling approach to evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy, which basically encourages drug users themselves to discuss the most suitable treatment option.


As for my specific responsibilities, in addition to providing routine strategic information support (i.e., routine monitoring and evaluation, surveillance and health management information systems) for all our USAID partners (in both the HIV/AIDS and Avian Influenza programs), I’m also getting involved with other interesting projects.


First, we’re in the process of starting a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Technical Working Group within the Government of Vietnam. And, I’m hoping to lead Health Management Information Systems (HMIS) strengthening initiatives within our partners as well as at the national level. I’m actually flying to Bangkok next week to attend the Global Health Information Systems Forum to meet the regional key players in this field and to strengthen my relations with international informatics leaders. At this stage, I’m still too new to this position to have an understanding of the HMIS needs or where HMIS currently stands in-country.



And, I’m pleased to say that I bumped into one of my favorite professors from Emory, Jim Setzer, who happens to be in Hanoi on TDY with Abt Associates working on another USAID funded project, Health Systems 20/20. Jim specializes in Health Information Systems, so I’m looking forward to collaborating on projects with him in the future.

amy & jim
(Amy & Jim at Cha Ca La Vong – One of the oldest restaurants in Vietnam (it’s been around for one-hundred and thirty-five years and only serves one dish….fried fish.)

Speaking of Abt Associates, I’m also the focal point for another one of their projects – conducting the National Health Accounts analysis (a comprehensive approach to look at total national health expenditure, including public, private and donor contributions) and conducting a National HIV/AIDS Sub-account and Program Analysis (HAPSAT) assessment (a tool for projecting gaps between needed and available financial and human resources for HIV/AIDS). Both of these projects are fascinating – and am thrilled to be a part of them!


And yesterday, I ventured outside of Hanoi’s city limits in order to explore Dai Bai, a metal working/bronze molding village. Granted, after living in Malawi – the term ‘village’ conjures up a totally different connotation in my mind. This ‘village’ was still a thriving metropolis, with thousands of people living in the region. Granted, it was still fabulous to walk around the streets and to see a different style of life.


Dai Bai village has been recognized as a center of bronze molding (a process which requires fairly complicated techniques) since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. To this day, two-thirds of the population of Dai Bai are engaged in bronze engraving and casting – which amounts to nearly one thousand craftsmen who work in three handicraft cooperatives and 20 private production groups.



The pieces were absolutely gorgeous…and the village was even busier than usual, preparing for the Tet Holidays.


I’m off to Thailand on Tuesday and am looking forward to returning to Bangkok (I haven’t been since 1994). On another note, my shipment has finally been approved to set sail! Soon I will be reunited with my belongings – which will make my apartment truly feel like home.


I’ve been having numerous technical difficulties since arriving in Vietnam – my ‘photos’ page on my blog is still broken (if anyone is familiar with WordPress and Flickr plug-ins, please let me know); and I’m having issues with out-going mail. Hopefully I’ll figure out what’s happening soon.

Sending much love,

2 comments to Life in Hanoi – Week Two

  • Jeff Stern

    Hi Amy

    Your Mom forwarded you blog and it was a pleasant surprise to see you are now in vietnam. Looks like a lot has happened with you since I last saw you in Maine. Vietnam sounds like it will be a great experience. One of my favorite all time vacations was to Thailand and from you initial photos, Vietnam seems to have similar splendors — and I certainly jealous of all the great food I’m sure you will consume.

    Take care


  • tal

    Great Blog. lost ur card, can you gat back to me?

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