Viet Nam is a country teetering on the brink of a nationwide AIDS epidemic. More than 250,000 people are infected with the virus and only 10% of those who fall ill are receiving the treatment they need. The country’s healthcare system is well-organized, but the disease has, until now, been concentrated among intravenous drug users, which is a national problem but not a priority.
Experts say it’s spreading quickly into the broader population because one of the chief barriers to prevention and treatment is this stigma that makes those infected outcasts. The government is preparing legislation to combat the epidemic, some $15 million in assistance is arriving from abroad, and more drugs are becoming available. But, it is support groups like the High Red Flamboyant (HRF) which are a critical part of the government’s strategy.
The International Herald Tribune (May 28, 2006) reported that Ms. Hue, a 26-year- old woman infected by her drug addict husband, was one of the first to speak out publicly on television “to show that we are people too.” She founded the HRF three years ago, which is now expanding from Haiphong to other cities.
When the HRF get together (they are mostly women infected by their addicted husbands whom have already died), they rarely talk about their illness. The HRF laugh, joke, sing, and console, because they know they will fall and that their sisters in the HRF will be feeding, bathing, and caring for each other’s children.
How do they go on, knowing they will likely not be cured? Nguyen Thi Sau, 29, whose husband has already died of AIDS, said, “The meaning of the group is so that when you’re dying you are less lonely.” The women have chosen to look directly into the face of the suffering that lies ahead and care for each other.
Whatever you face, you face better in loving community . . . even if it can’t cure, it heals.