More Efforts to Tackle with HIV at Remote Villages

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Mrs Tho and her three children at home.

Tho* looks pretty and young. The 32-year-old woman has four children but only three of them stay with her. The children all look thin and dirty. 

The Thai family lives at a small and empty cottage in a remote village Dien Bien province, which is located in northern mountainous region. They have nothing apart from a small ugly bed. A half of the bed was full of messy clothes.

“When my husband was alive, he used to be a breadwinner. When he died, I raised my children alone because my relatives lived far from me. Our main food was corn or vegetables,” the mother says in her native language.

Tho’s husband died of AIDS in 2012 after he was addicted to drugs for years in Dien Bien Dong district.

Sharing the border with Laos, Dien Bien province has reported an increasing number of drug addicts. Most of them are men, who come from ethnic minority groups like Tho’s husband.

They had no ideas about HIV and AIDS when the virus infected them. When they died, it might not be the worst. The worst may be the stigma facing their relatives.

“Although local villagers didn’t know exactly what the virus or the disease was, they were afraid the virus could kill them if they met us. Nobody wanted to come to my house during last year,” she recalls, drabbing off her tears. 

“My second daughter quitted school because others always said with her that her father died of AIDS,” Tho says. “I sent her to a relative to graze their cows early this year so that she is able to have something to eat and assist me in earning some money.”  

World Vision's staff visited Mrs Nu's family
Living in the same village, Nu*’s husband passed away of AIDS in 2011 after seven years of drug addiction. “Others avoided visiting us when they knew he was positive to HIV. No one wanted to eat or drink water with us when invited,” recalls the 26-year-old woman.

Working closely with local authorities, World Vision piloted a three-year project to raise awareness of children and other adults about HIV and AIDS. The project aims to remove stigma and discrimination against families of those who suffered from HIV and died of AIDS and better take care of the patients and their children.

Accordingly, training courses, forums and competitions on the topics were organised at many villages involving hundreds of community members. At school, children were encouraged to discuss about the disease at their group meeting so that they could understand about the issue and are open their heart to their peers whose father or mother were infected or died of HIV and AIDS.

Bich,a leader of a children’s club at her junior secondary school in Dien Bien Dong, says, “Since I joined the club, I understand HIV is not transmitted through usual contact.”

“If I wasn’t equipped with the knowledge, I wouldn’t dare to talk with them,” says the ninth grader. “I used to think I might be infected with HIV if I contacted anyone who carried the virus. Others in my communities were nervous, too. We used to neglect HIV- infected people and their families and often spoke ill of them.” 

Bich (standing) and Hien (right, second) discussed about HIV at their children's club.

Hien*, a member of Bich’s club, looks cheerfully when she joins with others to discuss about HIV and AIDS today. Her father died of AIDS in 2012.

“All members of the club and my classmates knew why my father died but they treat with me as well as other normal children,” says the seventh grader. “I’m happy to go to school because I have a lot of friends.”

Meanwhile, both the two women, Tho and Nu, have participated in awareness raising sessions on HIV and AIDs since their husbands passed away. So have their neighbours. As a result, they changed their behaviours to the women and their children.

“Other villagers feel free to say hello to me or visit my house. They shake our hands and drink water with us,” Tho says.

Tho’s second daughter has come back school since World Vision in cooperation with local authorities has carried out a series of local awareness raising sessions at her school and village. She is now a fifth grader. 

Though there are positive changes, local people are struggling with challenges. Their life is still poor and many keep their poor awareness about HIV. 

Tho and her children eat vegetables if she doesn’t earn any money that day. She hasn’t had enough money to have HIV test the second time at the central town. “I’m breastfeeding my little son but I don’t have enough milk,” says Tho. “I hope our family will have a good house. Also, our children will have enough clothes like others.”

“We have invited four HIV-infected people to attend our training course but only three came. The last man said he didn’t come because he was afraid that we might put him in jail,” says Mr Dinh, who is a volunteer of World Vision in Dien Bien Dong district. “Some other adults are not interested in what we talk about HIV and AIDs.”  

At present, World Vision is doing a long-term propramme, addressing health, agriculture, education and building capacity for children and other villagers in Dien Bien Dong district, including Tho’s.

*Characters’ names were changed. 

News Source : More Efforts to Tackle with HIV at Remote Villages

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