Across Vietnam are a number of late-night entertainment venues. Working at these venues are beer promoters, who are typically female, between 22 and 26, unmarried, and living far from home. Most usually take the job for financial reasons. They work at this job from 4 p.m. until late at night and interact with primarily male customers who are intoxicated and sometimes abusive. Often a promoter will go home with a customer to supplement their income.
Conditions such as these make promotion women very vulnerable. Furthermore, they have limited access to information on reproductive health and HIV. While many of the promotion women used to receive such education, there is an annual 30 percent turnover, bringing in new staff who have not received the training. More of these “beer girls” are at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because of these factors.
From 2008 to 2009, a total of 1,500 newly hired promotion women attended HIV behavior change communication programs facilitated by the USAID Workplace-based Prevention and Employment and Supportive Services for High-Risk Individuals in Vietnam project. The training sessions were financed by Vietnam Brewery Limited (VBL), which operates in 34 southern provinces in Vietnam and employs 3,500 beer promoters. The training sessions are in addition to their existing workplace policies on HIV prevention, care, treatment, and stigma and discrimination reduction. Eight certified peer communicators completed 32 training programs for promoters, co-organized with the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Nghe An.
The promotion women learned about changing high-risk behaviors, reducing stigmas and discrimination, and HIV counseling services. The women’s awareness improved significantly as a result of these programs, as revealed by surveys issued to the participants. The number of participants aware that condom use can reduce HIV transmission risk increased by 54 percent. Additionally, the number of those who answered that one partner is not necessarily infected if the other partner is HIV-positive increased by 50 percent. Furthermore, the participants who understood that preventive treatments can reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission increased by 40 percent.
As a result of these training sessions, beer promoters can work at their jobs with an increased awareness of the risks they face and the preventive measures and services available to them, and begin to change their behavior. Afterwards, a promotion woman from Ca Mau expressed, “Now I realize that anybody can be infected with HIV without proper knowledge. I wish to have the chance to attend this kind of communication program annually.” VBL plans to do exactly that. Furthermore, after the training sessions, USAID’s Vietnam HIV Workplace project was invited by three other beer companies to conduct similar activities.