The face of AIDS in Vietnam
Today is World AIDS Day. (I always remember this, because it also happens to be my birthday.) UNAIDs estimated 260,000 people in Vietnam were living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2005, about 0.5 percent of the population. About 13,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses that year.
While traveling in southern Vietnam last month, we noticed a lot of HIV/AIDS education signs and billboards everywhere, though the virus still seems to be somewhat taboo. Our guides said that people infected are usually quarantined – children relegated to separate orphanage wards, hospices created in undisclosed locations – but things have gotten much better in recent years.
Vietnam veteran Howard Goldin, of Monsey, and some of the other travelers from our group had visited the Mai Tam drop-in center for mothers and children with HIV/AIDS last year. Howard was anxious this year to find out what had become of this 8-year-old girl – the same age as his granddaughter – who had a particularly upsetting story:
“Her father got AIDS through the use of a dirty needle and died before she was born, but had infected her mom. Our little girl was born with AIDS, growing up in a rural village that has no knowledge about AIDS. Last year, her mother died and the villagers – thinking they would get AIDS by being near this child – took her to a rubber plantation far off and left her to die. She was rescued and brought the to Mai Tam center and given several months to live. …
In checking about her status this year we found out that she is no longer with us, her pain is gone.”
On our last day in Vietnam, our group presented the Lovers of the Holy Cross with a $500 donation toward the congregation’s work with AIDS patients and education in Ho Chi Minh City. Click on the audio link below to hear the sisters welcoming us with a song.
The group of Seattle Rotarians we met earlier in our trip, led by Son Michael Pham of Kids Without Borders, also found some hopeful signs in the efforts to prevent and treat AIDS in Vietnam. The group left lots of Beanie Babies for the infected children, and Pham said:
“Two years ago, the Go Vap Orphanage closed down the ‘Children with HIV/AIDS Ward’ and the kids were transferred to the Tam Binh 2 Orphanage in Thu Duc, specializing in caring from children with HIV/AIDS. Even though the kids in Tam Binh 2 are known as orphans, many still have at least one of parent, but they are in this place so they can get the care they need – as well as being isolated from others.
Back when they were at Go Vap, they were kept on one floor and separated from other kids. I could always tell they were very curious why they could not play with the other kids, all between 2-7 years old. I often found them looking at the other kids playing games on the lower courtyard through the holes of the balcony railing or the windows.
One of my most memorable moment was during a visit back in 2001, a three year old girl excitedly told me that soon she would go to France to meet her adopted parents and ‘take medicine’ and be able to play with other kids. She did leave for France, and that was the last news I heard about her. …
The government of Viet Nam does pay very close attention to the area of HIV/AIDS and the impact it would make if it is not contained and resolved. Educational programs can be seen throughout the country, not sure how effective it is, but at least the subject is kept on the front page of the news and visible on the streets with signs and banners. Within this month, many newspaper headlines announced crack downs on prostitution rings, including cases related to foreigners. There are many centers to care for HIV/AIDS patients, adults as well as children and through funding from international organizations they have supplies of medicine, but lack skilled medical staff to provide proper care.”