About the Author: Beau Miller serves in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam.
At the first-ever "Beauty Plus" pageant for women living with HIV, there was hardly a dry eye in the audience as U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael W. Michalak crowned the winner, and parents, siblings, children and friends rushed the stage with flowers for all of the 15 finalists.
The event was hosted by the Bright Futures Network of people living with HIV in Hanoi, with financial and technical support from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and in collaboration with the Center for Supporting Community Development Initiative and Vietnam Television's youth-focused channel VTV6.
After two preliminary rounds in October, the finale was held November 14 at the Vietnam Youth Theater, with live footage beamed around the country on channel VTV6. Top honors of the night went to Ms. Tran Thi Hue, a 27-year-old outreach worker with the Hanoi Reproductive Health Center and member of the Bright Futures Network self-help group of Ha Nam province. Ms. Nghiem Thi Lan, 30, and Ms. To Thi Tuyet, 32, were first and second runners-up.
Among the many factors considered by the star-studded jury was each contestant's HIV/AIDS-related social work. Jury members include fashion designer Xuan Thu, TV journalist Ta Bich Loan, artist Le Khanh, and Miss Sports Vietnam 2007 Tran Thi Quynh.
"What these women have suffered from reminds us of the need to strengthen our efforts to stop the spread of HIV," noted Mr. Ong Van Tung, Coordinator of the Bright Futures Network. "However, the fact that they are all beautiful, happy and full of energy after years of living with HIV is evidence that HIV treatment programs work. There are drugs to lengthen the life of people with AIDS, but these people can only have a happy and productive life by overcoming stigma and discrimination, and can exercise their rights to education, employment, health care and social support."