|Well known: Truong Ngoc Nhu (firs t on right), a social worker with the HCM City AIDS Prevention Committee, speaks with residents in her ward about HIV prevention methods. — VNS Photo Gia Loc
by Gia Loc
HCM CITY (VNS) — Whenever social worker Truong Ngoc Nhu hears about the delivery of a baby to a mother infected with HIV, she immediately visits her district's hospital to counsel the mother, explaining that she should never breast-feed the child.
A former war veteran, Nhu is head of Ward 21's Phat Tam HIV/AIDS Prevention Division in HCM City's Binh Thanh District.
As part of her job, she gives advice to mothers about HIV transmission prevention at the district's Gia Dinh People's Hospital.
Babies born to mothers with HIV are tested for HIV one month after delivery. They are then given another test four months later, said Nhu, who works for the city's AIDS Prevention Committee, considered to be the most effective in the country, according to the Viet Nam Administration of HIV/AIDS Control.
After delivery, the babies are given the HIV medicine zidovunine, but if results from the two tests show that HIV has been transmitted, they will receive another type of drug that will help them live healthier lives.
Nhu, 61, a native of Long An Province in the Mekong Delta region who moved to the city in 1990, is well-known for her devotion and care of people with HIV or AIDS.
She began hearing about people and children with HIV/AIDS living in the ward when she was a member of the Women's Union in Ward 21.
One young man, she said, was rumoured to have HIV, so she contacted the family to encourage him to take tests.
As a result, the son was willing to go to the hospital, where he tested positive for HIV with a low CD4 cell count, the type of white blood cells that fight infection.
He was immediately provided anti-retroviral ARV treatment, and is now healthy and married, Nhu said.
After she introduced many of these local residents to the city's anti-retroviral ARV treatment programme, the city's HIV/AIDS Prevention Committee offered her training as a social worker. She began to work for them in 2008.
A resident with HIV who lives in Nhu's Ward 21 calls Nhu a "lifebuoy".
"I was worried when I became pregnant, and I didn't know if I should have an abortion. So I met Nhu for counselling and she persuaded me to take part in the city's programme on prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission," Nguyen Thi Thanh Thao, who has HIV, said.
"Thanks to her counselling, my son tested negative for HIV," Thao said, who now works in Nhu's HIV prevention division.
The People's Committees in her ward and district have honoured Nhu with medals for her contributions to HIV prevention.
Along with official recognition, people with HIV/AIDS in her ward often send messages to express love and thanks to her, motivating her to continue counselling people with HIV.
Nhu said that a few women with HIV had wanted to abandon their newly delivered babies.
"I encouraged them to keep the babies," she said.
But some of the mothers cannot be convinced.
Nhu said on a trip to visit relatives in Vinh Long Province, she received a call from a woman at Gia Dinh People's Hospital in HCM City. She had just delivered a baby and wanted Nhu to find a welfare centre for the newborn.
Though Nhu urged her to keep the baby, the mother said she could not afford to raise the child.
Still in Vinh Long, Nhu called the HCM City HIV/AIDS Prevention Committee, which gave her the name of Tam Binh Welfare Centre for children with HIV/AIDS in HCM City.
As soon as she returned to HCM City, Nhu visited the centre to check on its quality.
"Unfortunately, the baby had tested positive for HIV," she said. — VNS