Camellia club provides help with HIV/AIDS struggle

New mother Pham Thi Khuyen, from Hai Phong City, was devastated when her two year marriage was rocked with the news that her four-month old baby had tested positive for HIV/AIDS.

“I felt like I was literally falling into hell. I am an adult and at least I had the chance to taste the joys of life but my baby is innocent. Her life was stolen from her because of somebody else’s fault” Said Khuyen.


Khuyen did not know that she had been infected and had contracted the disease from her husband, who subsequently died three months after discovering he had the virus.

Due to ignorance of the disease, the young mother and her baby were forced to move from their small house and live separately from her husband’s family.


“All of them love us dearly, but they were too scared to open their arms to us as they didn’t have any idea about the disease, all they knew was that it is an epidemic that causes death. The o­nly thing that helped me get over the hardest time of my life was the love I have for my child and my belief in God.” Said Nguyen.


Everyday the young widow would go to church to pray in the hope that her child would return a negative result o­n her test after 18 months. However, this was not to be as the resulting tests returned positive. Couple with her dire financial situation. Khuyen had become an emotional and physical wreck. It was during this time that she was introduced to the Camellia Club by a friend from church.


The club is a Ford Foundation funded joint-project between the Centre for Community health and Development (COHED), a Vietnamese Non-Government Organization and the Hai Phong Centre for Health Communication and Education (HCHCE) that aims to aid women who have contracted HIV/AIDS through their husbands.


Key members of the club are equipped with a wide range of knowledge about the disease and care giving methods for taking care for HIV/AIDS victims. They endeavour to enhance sufferers to access the access the free health services of the national HIV/AIDS Programme while providing their time to care for patients.


“Not every family welcome us when we come to help. Some families have even released their dogs o­n us. Receiving us in their home is admitting that o­ne of their family members has now got the virus” said Le Thi Than, another member of the club.


Through the mass media and public discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients has become much improved over the last few years. The situation, however, is still a major problem in rural and remote areas as the local population of ten has a rudimentary grasp of the disease and discrimination of often rife.


“Life used to be hard for me and I don not want to others to get into a similar situation. What I have done to help the group is not that special, but it really makes my life more personally meaningful for the short time that I am here.” Said Than.


Than said that she was crushed by unwanted stares of her co-workers at the office when they discovered she was HIV/AIDS positive. Though her colleagues were not direct in their united desire that she leave, their actions sent a clear message that she was no longer welcome as a cool at the Hai Phong Ship building yards.


Experts agree that her situation is very typical of what HIV/AIDS sufferers routinely endure in work environments around the country.


Director of the HCHCE, Nguyen Quang Thinh, said “Our mission now is to break through the prejudices of society about this disease and the people that with it”


After more than a year in operation, the club’s members have approached and helped more than 200 people and given them access to much needed health services. The group has also steered away from o­nly providing activities related to HIV/AIDS and are also active in the support of children whose parents have died from the virus. More than 30 children are currently supported by the club, which provides for their living and educational expresses.


Vice Director of the Hai Phong Health Department, Pham Trong Khanh, said, “This club is the most effective among many of the HIV/AIDS supporting projects in Hai Phong. It’s a great comfort to these poor women to help them regain confidence in life and allow them to further contribute to society.”

Women of Vietnam Review No 1/2007