Monday, June 23, 2008

A Visit to Marie Stopes in Ho Chi Minh City

Marie Stopes (MS) International is one of the largest international family planning organizations in the world. In 2006 alone, the organization provided nearly five million people in almost 38 countries with high quality health services, including family planning; safe abortion & post-abortion care; maternal & child health care including safe delivery and obstetrics; diagnosis & treatment of sexually transmitted infections; and HIV/AIDS prevention.

In Vietnam, MS was established in 1989 in Hanoi. It offers various services such as family planning; abortion; health screening; HIV/STIs; maternal health; primary health care; social franchising; young people reproductive health. Its primary objective is to increase awareness/availability of quality HIV/AIDS information and Voluntary Confidential Testing (VCT) services and to improve access to quality maternal and child health services.

Entering the building, Marie Stopes (MS) office/clinic in Ho Chi Minh City looks cool, comfy and friendly. It’s something that you would want to stay in at even if going there could stigmatize you because the organization is identified to abortion services (abortion is legal in Vietnam). Enticing too are the multi-colored office walls, the welcoming lounge area, and the interesting design of the filing cabinet.

The lobby of the clinic also has a computer with Internet connection so that companions of the clients will not get bored and still get to be informed while waiting.

There are two MS clinics in Ho Chi Minh City and the one we visited is the newly inaugurated clinic located in District 1 which is about 30 minutes away from the city proper. There are a total of seven MS clinics all over Vietnam. These clinics offer a full range of reproductive health services including family planning and contraceptive methods, general reproductive health checks including breast screening and pap smears, safe abortions and post abortion care, ante-natal check-ups and HIV testing and counseling services.

The five-story MS building has ultrasound room, examination room for Pap smear and prenatal check ups, and an operating room (i.e. safe abortion) which all look clean and safe.

The counseling room is cozy and relaxing for anyone who needs enlightenment of the mind and heart. The staff said they do not get the names of the clients to ensure confidentiality.

On an average day, they receive 20 clients. MS only charges minimum amount to their clients because their operations is being subsidized by funding agencies. This is to make their services affordable to the people and to be competitive with other private clinics. The clinic is open everyday.

Contraceptives are widely available in Vietnam. IUD and pills are the most commonly used contraceptives. MS sells condoms and pills in their clinic at an affordable price.

MS does not sell emergency contraceptive pills in a large scale since the sale of this product is restricted in Vietnam because it is classified as prescription drugs. Clients could buy the emergency contraceptive pill in government clinics and drugstores. A package of emergency contraceptive pills cost about $20 per dose.

While the Catholic Church community in Vietnam also opposes the distribution and use of contraceptives, they do not make much of an influence in government policy when it comes to family planning programs. The Vietnamese government encourages couples to only have two children to curb population growth.

MS also offer telephone hotline for counseling and quick referrals. For instance, they refer their clients from a distant place to other clinics where they can easily avail of RH services.

Abiding by the thrust of Marie Stopes International, the MS in Ho Chi Minh City aims to ensure the widest possible access by providing a range of information and innovative services. Aside from clinical services and contraceptive distribution, they also conduct community education and other advocacy activities. Their projects involve collaboration with different government agencies and private institutions (i.e. Adidas).

by: Joyce P. Valbuena

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