Survival in the Cage of HIV
By Two Burmese Journalists
Chiang Mai Province – The Ban Pong Hai is surrounded by groves of fruitful orange trees, in a mountainous region near the Burmese border. The road leading to the village is dusty, narrow and potholed.
There are five women and a young girl sitting on two benches at the village training center. In the first row are three generations of one family. A 37-year-old woman sits between her mother and her daughter. She has straight hair, an oval-shaped face with thin lips, and small, bright eyes. She’s a medium-sized Lahu woman. Her face is full of moles and she wears jade earrings, a jade locket around her neck, a blue-and-white striped jacket, and a sarong. She has HIV.
But she looks healthy. She said that she was infected with the virus 14 years.
“When I heard about my disease I wanted to die,” she said. “I was full of shame and couldn’t accept that kind of situation. But it’s a reality I have to face. Everyone may have a disease throughout her life. I tried to change my attitude and I tried to face that kind of reality without any depression.”
Once she learned her HIV-positive status, she tried to discover as much as she could about the virus.
“So I go to the doctor and follow his advice. And then I regularly check and take medicine,’’ she said. She also leads village classes in reproductive health issues.
“Encouragement is very important for an HIV-infected person. HIV is not similar to other diseases,” she said. “Sometimes I feel very sad but I can stand with the support of my family. Although I am an HIV-infected person, my husband understands me and gives love to me to make me strong. As for me, my husband and my daughter are a precious tonic that gives many powers to me to thrive for a long time.”
More than 30 people in her village have already died of HIV/AIDS, she said. In Ban Pong Hai, there are 80 households and the total population is more than 500. Right now there are two HIV cases, according to the village authorities. This woman, who will be called Mrs. Somsri to protect her privacy, said she has stayed healthy because of regular medical check ups and the anti-retroviral drugs she receives free from Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand.
Mrs. Somsri was married after her diagnosis. Her husband loves her truly and is a very kind man, she said. He works in Bangkok and they have a home in Ayutthaya now. He is the breadwinner of the family, while she does household work. She has temporarily left Ayutthaya because of the floods and is living in Ban Pong Hai with her mother. They have one nine-year-old daughter, who does not have HIV.
“If one living with HIV follows the doctor’s instructions very strictly, she can be a mother,” Mrs. Somsri said, hugging her smiling daughter.
“It is important to understand each other and be adaptable to the family members. Not even yourself but also to other people, including the community,” she said. “Normally, one living with HIV is neglected. Even in my village only 30 percent of the people accept me.”
She said family support is also one important factor for HIV positive people.
“I feel myself an ordinary person,” Mrs. Somsri said. “I can do my household work like other people.
“I want people to know that if someone is infected with HIV in their surroundings, they don’t neglect that person and need to give support to that kind of person. Because if the people neglect an HIV- positive person, they lose their confidence and want to leave their lives.”
Her daughter, now in second grade, is also a source of support.
“I always help my mommy as I can. If she wants to drink some water, I bring a glass of water for her. If she is ill, I help my mom to bring thermometer and medicine,” the little girl said.
Mrs. Somsri’s 61-year-old mother also voiced her support. “My daughter was infected with this kind of disease because of bad luck,” she said. “That’s why I have to support my daughter very kindly. Other people living with HIV should also be treated like my daughter.”
“First I got strength from my hubby. I also got strength from my daughter too,” Mrs. Somsri said with a smile.
Mrs. Somsri is not the only woman living with HIV who is sitting in the village training center that day. Behind her sits a 25-year-old woman who said she cared for an aunt who died of AIDS three years ago.
Another woman, also 25, said she understands patients’ feelings and she wants to help all people infected by HIV.
Even though the women sitting on the benches were not well-educated, they have learned what they need to know about HIV. They all said that the people who are infected need more help and care from human society.