Friday, December 4, 2009

The faces of two HIV positive patients

by Phyu Phyu Thin

Friday, 27 November 2009 07:58

I would like to tell you the stories of two hapless and vulnerable HIV patients in Burma.

The first is a female farmer hailing from Magwe Division. She contracted the deadly virus from a blood transfusion after being admitted to a hospital for a miscarriage. Not knowing how she contracted HIV, she accused her husband of having unprotected extra-marital sex. She did not accept her husband's protestations and continued with her accusations against him.

The truth only set in once two visitors appeared at their home with frail bodies covered with sores. They had come to apologize and disclose that they had donated blood to the hospital before learning of their own HIV positive status. Both husband and wife were shocked and stunned. Our network member, Ko Parlay, then visited them and provided counseling services. After that, they were sent to me.

In this way, this lady reached me in Rangoon. She had no place to stay. Staying at a monastery was not convenient, so she was sent to a home owned by my father and to the AZG clinic run by Medicines Sans Frontier (MSF) – where she was provided with ARV, an HIV medication.

Initially, the medicine drove her insane. She would run through the streets naked.

At the time of the blood transfusion she received six bottles of blood. The hospital charged 20,000 kyats (US$ 20) for a screening test per bottle. So, she had to pay a total of 120,000 kyats to the hospital for this service.

"I can't understand. I can't understand the virus infected me through the blood transfusion. You said the virus infected me through a blood transfusion. It means I bought this disease with my 120,000 kyats," she told me.

Unfortunately, as I came to learn, the tainted blood was in a 'window period' with no detectable anti-bodies at the time of the screening test.

The second story I wish to relate involves a little child. He was only five when I met him, and had also contracted the virus through a blood transfusion. He was so lovely. His father is a Lance Corporal and his mother a school teacher. He had been admitted to Mingaladon Military Hospital with dengue fever.

His blood donor was a friend of his father’s and an individual donor on some 60 previous occasions. But no one knew he had unprotected sex with a sex worker before he gave his blood to this little child. The blood donor did not reveal the incidence to the doctors on duty, and the blood of such a well-known and regular donor was assumed to be safe.

A blame game ensued between the child's father and doctors. The hospital claimed the parents had infected the child.

I rushed with the parents to the National Blood Test Centre in order to protect them from an incorrect blood test report by the hospital. The subsequent blood tests came back negative.

I assisted them in suing the doctors and lodging a complaint with a child rights organization.

Eventually, his nun grandmother took him from us, saying everything that had happened to him was due to his pre-determined destiny. I was taken aback by the passivism of our people.

These stories are but two of the multitude of cases that have been brought to by attention.

(The writer is a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and a leading member of an HIV/AIDS awareness program)

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