| NINH BINH — Many men from Kim Son District, in the northern province of Ninh Binh, are migratory workers. It is the stress of having to leave their communities to find work that is being blamed for the relatively high incidence of HIV/AIDS infection in the region.
To increase understanding about the disease, the Vietnamese and Canadian rehabilitation associations joined forces to set up HIV/AIDS-awareness programs in An Hoa Commune and Phat Diem Town.
Vu Van Kiem from Kim Son’s People’s Committee says when HIV-infected migrant workers return home they often pass on the disease to their wives.
"The highest risk of catching the disease comes from those who have moved away from home to earn a living. When they come back to their hometown, they infect their wives."
One HIV sufferer (who prefers to remain anonymous) used to work as an electrician in his local commune. However, he was forced to move away from home to find better-paid work. It was then that he started taking drugs, which he was introduced to by his landlord. And it was through using a dirty needle that he contracted HIV.
Since 1995 there have been 396 HIV patients in Kim Son. Of those, 18 have developed full-blown AIDS and 83 have died.
He says a lack of understanding about the disease is aggravating the problem.
"Although I haven’t made it public that I have HIV, people talk about me behind my back and avoid coming into contact with me. They even avoid sitting down with me to have a drink or a meal. Even my wife, children and relatives ignore me," he says, adding that villagers have also asked kindergartens not to accept his children.
It is the fear that his children won’t be able to attend school that another HIV sufferer, who also wishes to remain anonymous, has kept his disease secret. And it’s not just ill-informed and frightened villagers that shun him.
"It’s not just villagers but local officials like the head of the women’s association, the commune’s People’s Committee - even medical staff discriminate against us," he says.
And the discrimination doesn’t end with death - even some cemeteries are refusing to accept those who have died of AIDS.
In an effort to reduce the discrimination against HIV/AIDS sufferers, the Vietnamese rehabilitation association and the Canadian rehabilitation association launched its HIV/AIDS-awareness campaign that involves dropping leaflets through doors, running training courses, and holding public meetings. As a result, knowledge about the devastating disease has improved markedly.
Family members are now willing to look after HIV sufferers, without fear of catching the disease. HIV patients have even set up two social clubs - "Love and Responsibility" in Phat Diem town and "Consulting Care" in An Hoa Commune. The two clubs now have a combined membership of 47. HIV sufferers come to share their feelings, making their lives, if not happy, then at least less miserable and lonely.
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