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Hanoi, 24 September 2021 – Women, especially pregnant women in 60 remote ethnic minority communes of six most disadvantaged provinces of Bac Can, Lai Chau, Son La, Dac Nong, Kon Tum and Gia Lai will benefit from innovative interventions to stop preventable maternal deaths.


This is the ultimate goal of the UNFPA Project “Leaving no one behind: Innovative interventions to reduce maternal mortality in ethnic minority regions in Vietnam” which was signed today by Ms. Naomi Kitahara, UNFPA Representative for Vietnam, Ms Jennifer Cox, General Director, Merck Sharp & Dohme – MSD HH Viet Nam, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, and Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, MSD for Mothers Lead. 


Funded by MSD for Mothers and MSD Vietnam in the amount of US$1.2 million, the Project is one of the most important initiatives to reduce maternal mortality among ethnic minorities in six provinces in Vietnam’s Northern Midlands and Mountains, and Central Highland regions through innovative interventions, paying close attention to special needs of ethnic minority women who are at risk of being left behind in the country’s sustainable development process. 


UNFPA will deliver the Project in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Provincial Departments of Health in the selected provinces, and local civil society organizations in the period from 1 September 2021 to 30 September 2024. In addition to financial contributions from MSD for Mothers and MSD Vietnam, UNFPA commits to making its own contributions to the project in the amount of US$ 810,000, thus leading to the total project budget of US$2,010,000.


Viet Nam has made significant progress in improving sexual and reproductive health of the general population in the past 20 years, and was one of the only six countries in the world, which achieved, in 2015, the Millennium Development Goal - 5 (MDG5) on the reduction of maternal mortality. However, disparities and inequalities remain in access to and utilization of sexual and reproductive health services among different ethnicities and regions. Current evidence shows that while the maternal mortality ratio has declined to 46 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births at the national level, it still remains as high as 100-150 per 100,000 live births in mountainous and ethnic minority regions, particularly in Northern Midlands and Mountains, and Central Highlands.


Among all maternal death cases in Northern Midlands and Mountains, it is extremely high in some vulnerable ethnic minority groups, for instance Hmong (60%) and Thai (17%). Maternal mortality among the Hmong is 7 times higher than the Kinh- the majority group. More than half of the maternal deaths are happening at district and provincial hospitals due to limited capacities of health care facilities to manage maternal complications. In addition, remote and hard-to-reach geographical locations, low socio-economic conditions, cultural barriers and a limited understanding of maternal complications are also contributing factors to high maternal mortality.


The Project aims at increasing access to and utilization of integrated, quality and voluntary sexual and reproductive health services amongst ethnic minorities; improving the capacity on emergency obstetric care management in remote mountainous localities; and building a village-based birth attendant network in remote ethnic minority localities. The Project will also integrate the Covid-19 prevention and control into the existing sexual and reproductive health programme. In light of digital transformation, innovative interventions also include the development and operation of tele-health, including internet-based smart phone Apps to improve the delivery of sexual and reproductive health services in ethnic minority localities. The Project will also deliver innovative health education and community mobilization to ethnic minority communities to promote safe maternal deliveries.


Speaking at the event, Ms. Naomi Kitahara, the UNFPA Representative for Vietnam stressed that the signing to launch the Project funded by MSD for Mothers and MSD Vietnam constitutes another landmark step in UNFPA’s work to support women and girls, especially those in the remote areas with ethnic minority communities in Vietnam.


She said: “The signing to launch the Project today demonstrates UNFPA’s continued commitments to supporting the Government of Vietnam to ensure the rights and choices for all, and to ensure the provision of quality sexual and reproductive health services to prevent maternal deaths, thus contributing to Vietnam’s efforts to achieve its SDGs by 2030.”


Meanwhile, Ms Jennifer Cox. General Director, MSD HH Vietnam said: “We are proud to collaborate with our longstanding partner - UNFPA in kicking-start this MSD for Mothers program “Leave no one behind” investing in innovative interventions to reduce maternal mortality in ethnic minority regions of Vietnam, working towards reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We believe this project will bring tangible benefits to women in Vietnam and set the foundation for communities and societies to thrive for generations to come.”


Mr. Nguyen Duc Vinh, Director of the Maternal and Child Health Department, Ministry of Health confirmed the support of the Ministry to the project. He added:To improve the health status of people who left behind including ethnic minorities is the centre of the government’s development agenda. Lessons learned and best practices drawn from this initiative will help the Ministry of Health to effectively implement the national action plan on maternal, neonatal and child health for period 2021-2025 with vision towards 2030 to achieve SDG targets on health care”.


UNFPA, as the lead UN agency for sexual and reproductive health, is working towards achieving a Viet Nam with zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and zero gender-based violence and other harmful practices for women and girls.



Note to editors:

MSD for Mothers is MSD’s US$500 million global initiative to help create a world where no woman has to die while giving life. For nearly a decade, MSD for Mothers has worked to have a transformational impact on the longstanding challenge of maternal mortality, helping countries reduce maternal mortality and improve maternal health with the overall aim of supporting United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.1, which calls for a global reduction in the maternal mortality ratio to fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030.


For further information please contact:


Ms. Dinh Thu Huong, UNFPA Communications Officer


Phone: 0913 301 539