In its first 18 months, the Vietnam Civil Society Partnership Platform on AIDS (VCSPA) has grown rapidly from two member organisations to nearly 200 organisations, representing people living with HIV, drug users, men who have sex with men, sex workers, religious groups, women’s groups and student groups. Set up to create a bigger space for civil society in the HIV response, VCSPA has successfully strengthened civil society’s capacity, promoted its relevance, and consolidated and expanded the contribution of civil society to national level dialogue.
“VCSPA has already made some significant contributions”, says the Platform’s chair Khuat Thi Hai Oanh. “We have raised the awareness of policy makers and donors, as well as civil society itself, about the role of civil society and how much it can do. I think that is really important – gradually you can see changes in the way government sees civil society – with the UNGASS process, with the Global Fund. Gradually we are pushing the boundaries with government – for example, the name of VCSPA is now in the Global Fund proposal as a partner.”
One key area of activity has been on UNGASS monitoring. In 2009, UNAIDS and the Vietnam Administration of AIDS Control selected VCSPA to help assess progress towards the 2001 UNGASS Declaration of Commitment on HIV. This included raising awareness of what UNGASS is and why people should care about it, and organising a series of conferences to bring together feedback on the national AIDS programme. Nominated representatives then commented on the UNGASS report and attended the Consensus Workshop held with UN representatives, donors and the National AIDS Committee to agree on UNGASS progress.
“There is no doubt that the whole process gave VCSPA and civil society substantial influence on the final report, and helped create links with other international NGOs and stakeholders,” says Oanh. “Civil society co-organised the consensus meeting and agreed the final response.”
VCSPA has also been working with drug user groups, helping them to organise and gain recognition. One drug user group has now even developed a partnership with local police to take over the post-rehabilitation process for convicted drug offenders, demonstrating a new recognition of its value.
“Without the platform I don’t think we would have an organisation of drug users today in Vietnam. Before VCSPA there were no organised groups. Now they are starting to come out, to organise themselves, and to be recognised. This is through the Platform, and the support they are getting from the Platform.”
The biggest challenge facing VCSPA is its legal status. It can’t register as an organisation so there can be challenges organising activities and receiving funding. “The government can’t officially recognise us because of sensitivities around civil society, but they leave us to work quietly, and at our last general assembly they sent someone to come and present a speech, which is a good sign.”
“The most important thing is that we bring community-based organisations together, give them the inspiration, hope, and confidence that civil society is not so small and weak; that together we have a lot of energy and we can get things done,” says Oanh. “That’s the most important achievement.”
Read more about the work VCSPA is doing with journalists and community members to advocate for policy change.
Without the platform I don’t think we would have an organisation of drug users today in Vietnam