Women living with HIV/AIDS lead campaign against disease

With her cheerful face and her brisk, strong carriage, no one would suspect Tam (not her real name) is living with HIV/AIDS.

Tam was diagnosed HIV-positive when she was six months pregnant with her first child. Unable to believe the result, she tried different hospitals in various province and cities of Quang Ninh, Hai Phong and Ha Noi in the hope she would get a different answer, but it was always the same. She did not know how she had contracted the disease until her husband died of a critical illness.

After hearing the news, there were several times when Tam wanted to die. But the baby inside her reminded Tam to withstand this situation in silence.

She began looking for information o­n how to prevent HIV/AIDS being transmitted from mother to child.

Tam says her friends, loved o­nes and neighbours have not shunned her, but instead have shown sympathy towards her situation.

A naturally enthusiastic worker, having been a gym instructor at Quang Ninh Province’s children’s cultural palace, Tam volunteered to run a HIV/AIDS peer group in Ha Long City, Quang Ninh Province.

Breaking barriers

In the case of Hanh (not her real name), who is head of an HIV/AIDS peer education programme For a Bright Future, in Van Don District, Quang Ninh Province, fate has dealt some tougher blows.

"I myself am living with the disease. My husband and my child died, and I felt as if heaven and earth had collapsed," Hanh says. "I o­nly wanted to die because my parents and in-laws were all aloof towards me."

Yet, she thought she should not surrender to fate while other people’s illnesses were more critical than hers. "I thought I should help eliminate the barriers for myself first," Hanh recalls.

Hanh rummaged everywhere to look for documents o­n protection and prevention of HIV/AIDS. She read them and showed them to other people. Gradually, people began to understand and feel close to her.

Sympathising with people in the same situation, Hanh and some of her friends formed the For a Bright Future peer group to encourage and help people living with HIV/AIDS to overcome the disease and the difficulties that come with it.

"Afflicted people usually hide themselves and that says something about the community," she says.

Things are changing for the group: the number of people in it now stands at 131 and it intends to change its name to Immortal Flower.

 Happiness smiled upon her when she was later told that her baby was not afflicted with the disease. Her son is now three years old and in good health.  

Public awareness campaign

A communications campaign to promote voluntary counselling and testing (VTC) for HIV was launched by the HCM City AIDS Committee (PAC) with the support of the United States Government, yesterday.

The campaign has been established with the assistance of the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief and Population Services International, a US-based non-profit organisation.

The programme encourages people to get tested free of charge at government certified and highly confidential testing stations throughout the country.
With the support of the Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, Viet Nam has so far established 70 VCT clinics in 40 out of the country’s 64 provinces and provided testing and referral services to about 80,000 at risk people annually.

HCM City is home to 20 VCT centres that test o­n average up to 20,000 people yearly. Figures show that about 47 per cent of those who tested positive for HIV have gone o­n to receive after care and support services.

Simple dreams

"As women of misfortune, we hope people will start to look at us differently, while local authorities and unions create favourable conditions to help us overcome difficulties to regain our faith in life," says Tam, who is now deputy head of the Cactus Flower peer group. She says she wanted to call it "cactus flower" because it is brimming with vitality.

Meanwhile, Hanh hopes that HIV/AIDS peer groups in the province, and throughout the country, will co-ordinate more closely to achieve better results in HIV/AIDS prevention and protection, saying that the existing co-ordination remains loose.

Hanh said her peer group also wanted to bring their service to mountain, remote and island areas.