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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid