End of Project Workshop “Government Social Franchising Reproductive Health Services at Commune Health Stations

Over 1.7 million people in poor and rural areas received free reproductive healthcare as part of a Government social franchising service, according to a conference in the capital city today.

The conference between representatives form Marie Stopes International and health departments in the three provinces of Thai Nguyen, Thua Thien Hue and Vinh Long discussed the Sisterhood project, the first ever social franchise in the public health sector in the world.

Since 2009, the project helped carry out 4,325 safe abortions in the three provinces, said the project manager's Nguyen Quy Linh.

Funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and with technical support from international non-government organisation Marie Stopes, the project has local provincial health departments act as the franchisor and commune health stations as franchisees.

Following successful pilot models in Khanh Hoa and Da Nang provinces, the project was designed to strengthen local capacity to respond to the community's sexual reproductive health needs, including demand for family planning. Work was also carried out to raise awareness among target groups and key stakeholders, encouraging communities to use healthcare services.

Under the project, the clinics and district health centres received renovations and upgrades to their facilities while being supported to establish counselling departments and provided with basic medical equipment for the services.

More than 3,520 commune health staff were trained with 80 per cent showing positive changes in knowledge, attitude and behaviour at work.

Vu Hoai Nam, health department director of Thai Nguyen Province's Dai Tu District, said local people had neglected reproductive healthcare due to a lack of facilities at clinics.

"But the project has helped bring back a lot of customers to the local clinics," said Nam.

He said the number of customers using the Sisterhood service had increased significantly, especially for low-cost cervical cancer screenings, which also helped ease the overload of patients at provincial hospitals.

With a network of over 300 stations, the Sisterhood service have given rural women 65,000 cervical cancer screenings, a service considered as expensive in Viet Nam.

According to Marie Stopes, the number of patients who received the services tripled between 2010 and 2012, with services helping women avoid more than 42,000 unwanted births and 24 maternal mortalities.

The project has succeeded in attracting strong commitment from local authorities and donors. Heath departments have planned to replicate the model across their localities with their own resources while the European Union has also funded Thua Thien Hue and Vinh Long provinces to develop the model at an additional 60 clinics.

Three more provinces of Yen Bai, Dak Lak and Ca Mau are on the list of new pilot areas if funding is confirmed by Atlantic Philanthropies.

According to the project manager, authorities and health workers from Cambodia and Madagascar have asked her to share her experiences in the area.

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