by Thu Trang
HA NOI — Twenty-eight-year-old Nguyen Hong Hanh says she remembers all the details of her marriage registration ceremony held three years ago as if it had occurred yesterday.
|Health officers consult with fishermen about reproductive health. Viet Nam and international organisations have joined hands to equip people with more knowledge on and access to reproductive healthcare services. — VNA/VNS Photo Duong Ngoc
At that time she and her husband were one of five couples who participated in the first collective marriage registration ceremony of its kinds in Ha Lam Ward, Ha Long City, in the northern province of Quang Ninh.
"After pronouncing that we were all husbands and wives, the master of the wedding ceremony invited us to a counselling session on sexual and reproductive health skills and knowledge," Hanh recalls.
She says that before marriage, like many other young people, she knew little about safe sex and reproductive health.
"I felt like a fish out of water before getting married. When I listened to the radio or TV talking about safe sex, I did not really understand what it was," she says.
There were many things about married life that she wanted to know about but did not know who she should ask.
On the day Hanh and her husband came to the ward's People's Committee to register their marriage, they were invited to attend the collective marriage registration ceremony and receive counselling on sexual and reproductive health. They gained a lot of interesting and useful information that they never had before.
"I used to think that family planning was only for the wife to think about, and not a matter for the husband," says Hanh.
Now she has learned that if both the husband and wife discuss the issue together and select an appropriate contraceptive method, both can enjoy a healthy sex life.
"I feel very lucky to have participated," says Hanh. "I also learned about the economics of raising children, and the value of planning our life together, which I found extremely useful for my own life."
Nguyen Hong Minh, director of the National Hospital for Obstetrics and Gynaecology's Centre for Reproductive Health and Family Planning Counselling, says few young couples receive reproductive health counselling before marriage.
Statistics from the hospital show that last year young couples choosing to have abortions accounted for 53 per cent of all abortions. In addition, sterilisation caused by unsafe abortions occurred in 60 per cent of the cases, says Minh.
The collective marriage registration ceremony is an initiative designed and implemented by the Viet Nam Family Planning Association with technical assistance from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and financial support from the Government of Luxembourg.
The model, entitled "Sexual Reproductive Health Communication and Counselling Integration in Marriage Registration Ceremonies", is part of a project on strengthening the accessibility and quality of reproductive health care with a focus on safe motherhood, adolescent reproductive health and reproductive rights. The project was launched in October 2007 and will run until May this year in Quang Ninh, Hue, Nghe An and Can Tho.
During the past five years, the project has helped raise the rate of adolescents who could name all five HIV preventive methods in the four provinces from 50 per cent to 62 per cent.
Surveys carried out by the project found that the rate of respondents knowing at least five contraceptive methods rose from 37 per cent to 66 per cent.
As many as 87 per cent of the respondents reported that both wives and husbands decided to use contraceptive methods, up from 72 per cent at the beginning of the project.
A total of 472 marriage registration ceremonies were organised for more than 1,500 couples in the four provinces since the project began.
While the model will be phased out in May this year, it will be scaled up to 2,000 other communes and wards throughout the country in June this year and will be financed through the national budget.
Chairwoman of the Quang Ninh Family Planning Association Nguyen Thi Hau says the project is practical and realistic.
"We must acknowledge that young people have the right to have safe sex, so we have created an environment for them to talk about this," says Thi.
To optimise the effectiveness of this model, a short pre-marital education course for couples should be conducted in which information and knowledge on sexual and reproductive health, life skills and other related issues can be provided, says Thi.
Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Representative in Viet Nam, says he considers reproductive and sexual health issues as one aspect of personal development.
Promoting knowledge of sexual and reproductive health can help young people protect themselves from non-consensual sex, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, says Campbell.
"Investing in adolescent girls is one of the smartest investments a country can make," he says. "With health, education and opportunities, girls and women can contribute fully to their societies." — VNS