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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid