Long Phin in front of his house. The HIV sufferer rebuilt his life after he became aware of the disease but is still struggling to make a living.
Long Phin dreams that his small family can live in happiness, just like thousands
of other families. The one difference is that he and wife are both infected with
"I want a baby like other people, even though we are living with AIDS. Now my
wife is five months pregnant so I'm very happy," said Phin.
Phin, 36, realized he was infected with HIV/AIDS in 2004, after he left his hometown
in Prey Veng to look for work in Kampong Speu province. His ex-wife, who he had married
in 2002, wanted a divorce when he became sick. Phin was left isolated.
Without any support from his family Phin traveled alone to the government run anti-retro
viral (ARV) center in Svay Rieng to get his medicine. There he met a widow, Long
Socheat, who was also living with AIDS.
They soon became close, traveling to Svay Rieng to get their medicines together.
Finally they decided to marry, although they received little support from their relatives
in their villages.
"We have the same kind of disease so we can understand each other," Phin
said, taking palm leaves out of the cart as he spoke, so Socheat could make mats.
"When we get sick, we can look after each other."
Phin and Socheat are one of a new group of Cambodia's HIV survivors whose chances
at living long lives while taking ARV drugs have enable them to take the risk of
having a baby. But they worry about the baby's risk of infection and about their
Dr. Koum Kanal, director of the National Maternal and Child Health Center in Phnom
Penh explained that people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) have a right to have a child,
just like other people. But if they want a baby, they must take precautions and take
drugs to prevent mother to child infection, he said.
The drugs must be used throughout the later stages of pregnancy, until a week following
delivery. The result is an infection rate of less than 7%.
"PLHA have a right to make a baby when they want," Dr Kanal said. "But
they have to know themselves how long they will live. To produce a baby, only for
them to become a street kid, is not the best way."
Socheat was unaware she was infected until after her first husband, a policeman in
the Chamkamorn district of Phnom Penh, died of AIDS in 1998. Socheat said her husband
told her he was infected three days before he died.
She briefly returned to Prey Veng before traveling to work in a Battambang restaurant.
She then went to Thailand to work as housemaid for several years, but returned home
in 2005 when she became sick.
"I never thought about marrying him [Phin], but at the time my disease became
worse and I stayed in the referral hospital. He was the man who looked after me until
I got better," Socheat said.
Since marrying in May 2006, Phin and Socheat have lived in Beung Preah commune in
Ba Phnom district of Prey Veng. They have a small thatched house - three meters wide,
four meters long, where they make a living feeding their pigs, chickens and ducks
in surrounding cages and growing vegetables through a program supported by the Cambodian
Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.
Socheat said since many villagers infected with AIDS have passed away, people have
become more understanding about HIV/AIDS and no longer discriminate.
Like other families in the village, Phin and Socheat are enjoying their new life.
Each month they receive 30kg of rice from the World Food Programme through the Women's
Organization for Modern Economy and Nursing.
"My husband, he wanted a baby and always insisted that I have one, but I'm afraid
that the baby will be infected by our disease," she said.
On June 4-6, the Ministry of Health, World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNAIDS
organized a technical consultation - scaling up HIV testing and counseling in the
Asia-Pacific region - with participation from 12 countries.
Mean Chhi Vun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs
said there are 25,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Cambodia, including 3,000 children,
and by March 30 around 22,000 of them had received ARVs.
He said 220,000 people came for testing in 2006. In the first three months of 2007,
80,000 had already come for testing, including many pregnant women.
"We hope that this and next year half a million people will have access to testing,"
Chhi Vun said, "But we need $1 million for the operation."
Mam Bun Heng, MoH Secretary of State, said if everybody agreed to testing it would
reduce the infection rate.
But there was still a lack of access to HIV testing, including testing for mother
to child infection.