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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - AIDS victims struggling to cope with daily life

AIDS victims struggling to cope with daily life

aids.jpg
aids.jpg

Chea Sotheacheath

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

AIDS.

"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

own health.

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.

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