Friday, December 4, 2009

Living with HIV, a Young Vietnamese Mother Finds Support and Acceptance

N is 35 years old and has a 9-year-old daughter. She has been living with her in-laws ever since her husband died of HIV many years ago. N is HIV positive with a CD4 that is alarmingly low, reading only 7 at last count. Surprisingly, N has not received antiretroviral treatment because her in-laws will not allow her to go to a hospital. The issue is not that the cost of ART is too high, but rather that they fear the stigma and discrimination they will face if her status is released. They also believe that the longer she is alive, the more likely she is to transmit HIV to her family members. “If you stay in this house, we will cover the costs of care and your funeral,” her in-laws once said. “Otherwise, we will not consider you a member of our family. We will not care what happens to you.”

Still, N has been left to fend for herself when sick. Her in-laws ignore her, and her own parents live far away and are too poor to travel. At one point, N was so weak that she could not even wash her clothes. Upon hearing this, her sister-in-law came to the house, saying, “Give me your clothes and I will wash them.” The sister gathered all of N’s dirty clothes and burnt them, telling her it was a way to prevent the spread of HIV to their family members.
HealthRight’s home-based care (HBC) workers heard of N’s situation and tried to visit her and her child. At first, N’s in-laws would not allow them to see her. They told her that if she sought help from anyone, they would not pay for her funeral.
The home-based care workers knew N urgently needed immediate treatment and care, but also recognized her need for long-term support. So they asked the Gia Lam District Women’s Union to help them approach N’s family members. The Women’s Union visited several times, each time sharing basic HIV information. Finally, N’s in-laws agreed to let the HBC workers provide health care and support.
Since that time, HBC workers have been helping N get back on track. A female HBC worker helps N wash her clothes, and a male HBC worker has taken her to the hospital to register for treatment. The Women’s Union and the HBC workers are still formulating a plan of longer term support for N while continuing to meet the needs of her and her family.