In Trang Nguyen’s native country of Vietnam, HIV prevalence among heroin users ranges from 30 to 70 percent. Though drug use dangers are widely publicized, many youth begin using in their teens. Once addicted, they struggle with repeated relapses and are scorned and feared by their communities. Those with HIV struggle to access and stay on treatment, and many die at a young age.
“It’s a false but common assumption that change in knowledge automatically leads to change in behavior,” says Nguyen. And she should know. For the last decade, she’s been immersed in Vietnam’s public health challenges—as a policy advocate, community organizer, technical advisor and more.
Nguyen’s extensive field-based experience has taught her a great deal, but she realizes there is still much to learn. “While many studies have been done on drug users’ behaviors and HIV risks, little is known about young people’s drug use initiation and their early experience of drug use, injection and addiction,” she explains. What factors lead to heroin use among Vietnamese youth? How can health education and communication help break this path?
At the Bloomberg School, Nguyen will tackle these and other challenging questions. “After years of relying on research to inform my work as a practitioner, I would now like to strengthen my own ability to carry out research and contribute to public health knowledge,” she says. “In doing so, I hope to contribute to alleviating the HIV epidemic and improving the health and well-being of young people in Vietnam.”
Assistant Scientist, Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health