Remarks by USAID Mission Director Joakim Parker at the Launching Ceremony for New Disability Programs

Tuesday, October 27, 2015
USAID Mission Director Joakim Parker speaks at the launching ceremony.
USAID Mission Director Joakim Parker speaks at the launching ceremony.

HANOi, October 27, 2015-- It is exciting to join you this morning to announce the shared commitment to a new phase of our cooperation on support for persons with disabilities. You know well that this year Vietnam and the United States celebrate the 20th anniversary of the normalization of our diplomatic relations. During that period our governments have partnered for significant achievements in areas of economic growth and trade, health, education and war legacies. But our cooperation for persons with disabilities goes further back and represents perhaps the broadest set of aspirations shared by our peoples. In important ways it represents a key element of our past and future relations. For many it also represents an important part of our cooperation on war legacies.

Last year’s landmark ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities demonstrated Vietnam’s commitment to respecting rights, embracing the value of diversity, and promoting equal opportunities. It added a potentially important new dimension to our cooperation that is also at the core of USAID’s broader strategy for development cooperation, which is the emphasis on inclusion.

Prior to ratification of the Convention, MOLISA’s leadership brought the government to adopt significant laws and policies benefitting persons with disabilities. These are instrumental policy steps that support social inclusion and respect for rights. As we know from our own experience in the U.S., however, putting procedures into practice is perhaps a greater challenge. That’s one reason why we are so pleased that three weeks ago the Prime Minister established a National Committee on Disability to strengthen inter-ministerial implementation. The U.S. Government is pleased to support Vietnam’s efforts to meet these goals through the assistance being announced today, as well as to address the individual needs of persons with disabilities living in provinces with high rates of poverty and disability and where heavy wartime use of Agent Orange occurred.

The projects announced today draw on the lessons of the past, including those identified via rigorous evaluation. Our approach reorients our cooperation and emphasizes working as much as possible with local partners and Vietnamese leaders in the disabilities sector. We hope that our collaboration improves health, independence, and participation in economic and social life for persons with disabilities.

On behalf of USAID, I thank all ministries and stakeholders for their collaboration in devising projects that meet the challenges faced by persons with disabilities. Our six implementing partners are of course here and I ask each to acknowledge its presence as I announce their names -- Action to the Community Development Center, Disability Research and Capacity Development, Handicap International, VietHealth, Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. We can look forward to additional partners joining these six as we look forward to our cooperation over the next five years.

Three of these projects are led by Vietnamese organizations, and I am very proud that each has made a convincing case for their role via meetings with important U.S. stakeholders such as the office of Senator Leahy and the State Department’s Special Advisor on Disability rights. We also welcome the commitments of our international grantees, all of which have been active trusted partners of Vietnam for many years.

A key element of our cooperation will be support for disability advocacy, policy and systems strengthening. The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities requires strengthened data monitoring and outreach to influence sector-specific service provision in areas such as construction and transport. Coordination with the new National Council on Disability should enable stronger disability coordination at central and local levels, and help ensure better enforcement of provisions such as accessibility standards, incentives for employment of persons with disabilities, and on education.

The new program will also improve physical, occupational, and speech therapies for persons with disabilities and provide assistive devices.

These therapies are recognized as an effective pathway for persons with disabilities to gain independence, including their ability to learn and work, yet much remains to be done on capacity and sustainability. The new program will provide these services for persons with disabilities while building proficiency and capacity to ensure services continue after the program ends.

Based on the recently drafted National Action Plan on Rehabilitation we will be supporting improved physical, occupational, and speech therapy training and medical care management. The National Action Plan stems from the realization that staff and facilities are frequently ill-equipped to comprehensively address the social and personal needs of children and adults with disabilities. These critical issues are often overlooked, leaving persons with disabilities and families in a continuing poverty and lack of access to services. Physical therapy programs exist yet fall short when it comes to the expertise needed to fully contribute to the improvement of a patient's condition.

To address these needs, our program will build the skills of health professionals and increase access to enhanced services for persons with disabilities. We will work with provincial and district rehabilitation hospitals, as well as medical centers.

While an impressive social protection network and financing mechanisms exist in Vietnam, these do not always answer the specific needs of persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities represent one of the most vulnerable groups with limited access to health care, social services, and education. MOLISA reports that there are 1.3 million children with disabilities. They are disadvantaged by limited services and resources to detect and intervene in disabilities in the critical early years of life. The new program will engage the participation of health, education, and social affairs stakeholders to reach into communities so that therapy services can be offered either on site or through referrals to other facilities. Parents will also be equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to reduce self-stigma and to take care of their children at home.

We recognize that mobility plays an important role in the reintegration of persons with disabilities into society. USAID will support the fitting and distribution of quality assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, orthopedic and prosthetic devices in targeted provinces. We believe that with an enabling environment, as well as supportive devices, many persons with mobility impairments can lead meaningful lives and effectively contribute to the social and economic development of Vietnam.

Many rights are identified for persons with disabilities in Vietnam. To make rights real, however, the Government and civil society must deepen integration of disability goals into the national and social development agenda, and build support for substantial budgets for disability programs. There must be a national effort to develop an effective monitoring and evaluation system for disability programming and a national disability information system. At the same time, public buildings must be made accessible. Persons with disabilities must take an active role in accessibility of their localities by participating in monitoring committees and advocate for improvements.

All of these activities are expected to work in tandem. Nevertheless, we recognize that starting up and coordinating is not always as smooth as one would hope and that some gaps remain. We will continue to identify ways to work with all of you and others to maximize the impact of our cooperation. I would like to specifically thank MOLISA leadership and technical offers for their dedication to this goal. Together we can support Vietnam’s interest in a society in which persons with disabilities have the same rights of social inclusion and non-discrimination, equality in education, healthcare, and justice that the rest of the population enjoys. I wish you a successful journey ahead, good health and happiness.

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Issuing Country