News / Health

In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shamei
X
July 21, 2014 7:17 PM
Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Say Mony

Each morning as Uch Navy stands in front of the mirror, she glances at photos of her late husband and remembers the good times they shared.

One shows a young Cambodian couple dressed in finery, their faces close together, smiling.

But Thul Vanna committed suicide last year after learning he was HIV positive, leaving behind Uch and their adolescent son, Chhel Vanhong.

Uch Navy says her son, Chhel Vanhong, has sustained her will to live. The Cambodian woman contracted HIV from her late husband, who committed suicide in 2013.Uch Navy says her son, Chhel Vanhong, has sustained her will to live. The Cambodian woman contracted HIV from her late husband, who committed suicide in 2013.
x
Uch Navy says her son, Chhel Vanhong, has sustained her will to live. The Cambodian woman contracted HIV from her late husband, who committed suicide in 2013.
Uch Navy says her son, Chhel Vanhong, has sustained her will to live. The Cambodian woman contracted HIV from her late husband, who committed suicide in 2013.

“Shortly after I held the funeral for my husband, I was looked down on and treated differently by the villagers,” Uch recalls, speaking through a translator. “Children in the village started making fun of my son, saying, 'Your father had AIDS; he might have infected the whole village.’ ”

Mother and son remained in Kone Domry village in western Cambodia, near the Thai border. But Uch feared she, too, might be infected. A third of the country’s newly diagnosed patients have been infected by their spouses, its National AIDS Authority estimated in a report this spring. Roughly 70,000 people are living with HIV in this poor South Asian country of 15 million.

A photo reminds Uch Navy of promising times with her late husband.A photo reminds Uch Navy of promising times with her late husband.
x
A photo reminds Uch Navy of promising times with her late husband.
A photo reminds Uch Navy of promising times with her late husband.

“I told myself that if I was also infected, I would kill myself,” says Uch, who’s in her early 40s. “I would rather die because having AIDS brings shame. The stigma is strong and people are disgusted by it.”

When fearful villagers set her house on fire, Uch Navy took her son and returned home to live with her sister near Phnom Penh.

A cascade of problems

She was sick often, and a test revealed her worst fear: She was HIV positive.

Her family turned on her, too.

“My only sister and cousins showed disgusting behavior toward me,” Uch recalls. Before her diagnosis, “we ate together, but after I was known as HIV positive, they would not eat with me. Even when my child was playing around, they called him 'AIDS child.'”

Then the sister said she no longer could help.

“I just could not afford to feed her as I have barely made ends meet for my two daughters,” Suon Kea explains.

Chhel Vanhong, frail since being born in 2000 with a heart condition, nonetheless often scavenged around the community for scraps of food. But villagers showed little sympathy.

“When you leave your village to find work elsewhere and come back with a disease, normally the villagers will criticize you,” says Chheoun Chreb, the village chief. They’d say, “ 'See, what did you get for working in another village? Nothing but AIDS.'”

Desperate accounts

The stigma patients face from family members and the community often leads to guilt, shame and self-blame, health experts say.

“Almost 75 percent of them think they made such a big mistake in their lives that they discriminate and isolate themselves from society,” says Teng Kunthy, a physician and the AIDS Authority’s secretary general. “And the serious cases often end in suicide.”

Feeling desperate and alone, Uch Navy contemplated following her husband’s path and killing herself.

“I felt so sick and skinny that I no longer wanted to live,” she remembers. “Then I thought of my son and had pity on him, so I strived to survive just for him.”

Fortunately, Cambodia offers free antiretroviral medication to people with HIV. Broad distribution of the medicine, plus targeted prevention efforts, lowered the prevalence of HIV to 0.7 percent of the general population age 15 to 49 last year, down from a peak of 1.7 percent in the late 1990s, the National AIDS Authority reports. 

But many people must move from the countryside to cities for treatment. Those with limited means live in squalor.

Uch Navy says her son, Chhel Vanhong, has sustained her will to live. The Cambodian woman contracted HIV from her late husband, who committed suicide in 2013.Uch Navy says her son, Chhel Vanhong, has sustained her will to live. The Cambodian woman contracted HIV from her late husband, who committed suicide in 2013.
x
Uch Navy says her son, Chhel Vanhong, has sustained her will to live. The Cambodian woman contracted HIV from her late husband, who committed suicide in 2013.
Uch Navy says her son, Chhel Vanhong, has sustained her will to live. The Cambodian woman contracted HIV from her late husband, who committed suicide in 2013.

A nurturing setting

Eventually, Uch Navy found a new home with Place of Rescue, a Canadian-based Christian organization that supports approximately 500 people living with HIV.

The charity provides food, medicine and housing. Uch Navy and her son have a small, simple house with a kitchen area, a bathroom and tile floor. When she’s strong enough, she works in the organization’s large vegetable garden, says the organization’s founder, Marie Ens. Uch’s son is able to go to school for the first time.

She’s feeling better, both mentally and physically.

Her son brings purpose to Uch Navy’s life. But her thoughts often wander to her late husband.

“I feel anger and regret every day,” she says. “If only he was still alive, he would’ve received medicine and felt healthy like others with the disease. He shouldn’t have been so short-sighted and decided to kill himself.”

VOA’s Carol Guensburg contributed to this story.

You May Like

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid