|Peer educators collect needles in Loc Bon Commune, Thua Thien Hue Province. The provincial HIV/AIDS Prevention Centre also helped the commune give normal lives to HIV sufferers. — Photo coutesy of Thua Thien Hue HIV/AIDS Prevention Centre
by Phuoc Buu
THUA THIEN HUE (VNS)— When men began dying of AIDS in 2004 in central Thua Thien Hue Province's Loc Bon Commune, it struck terror in the hearts of locals because there were no drugs and few prostitutes in the area.
Since then the commune has been called the "HIV commune" by some local newspapers. A total of 25 people have been found to be infected with HIV. Eleven of them died.
"The situation was really bad in 2004, because in other communes only two or three HIV-infected cases were reported," said Doctor Vo Dai Thuan, head of the commune's healthcare service.
All of the 11 people who died of AIDS were guest workers who had laboured in neighbouring Laos.
Le Van Khuong, deputy chairman of the commune people's committee, said: "In 1990s, many locals went to Laos for jobs, including construction workers, carpenters, tailors and babysitters. We supported them in passport procedures but we didn't manage them under any guest worker contracts."
Khuong said from 1997 to 2004, more and more workers went to Laos for jobs because of the higher income they could earn there.
Almost all of them spent a whole year in Laos and returned to their home village only for Tet. They had sex with prostitutes in Laos and were not aware of their HIV infection, which they transferred to their wives.
This made the commune a key locality in the national list of communes with HIV that needed close control. With a total of 23 HIV and AIDS cases, the commune was at top of the list of HIV and AIDS carriers.
Nowadays, local health staff have slowed the increase of HIV cases in the commune. The situation has been under control since 2008.
"There were no newly infected cases in 2009 and 2010," Thuan said. "Two new cases were recorded in the last two years. Both were guest workers in Laos."
Thuan said the education programme had raised awareness of locals.
"Preventive education among vulnerable groups has prevented the spread of HIV."
Thuan emphasised that close monitoring by the Thua Thien Hue HIV/AIDS Prevention Centre had helped HIV mothers give birth to children which tested negative for HIV.
The centre has been doing their best to assist wards and communes in the province to give normal lives to HIV bearers.
Public awareness had also increased. "There's no more discrimination towards the HIV/AIDS bearers. Also they were more confident to use medicine for a normal life," Thuan said.
Said Tran Thi Ngoc, the centre's director: "We set up a successful network of peer educators, various education programmes and a free medicine supply strategy."
Ngoc said free tests and friendliness from consultants at the centre had persuaded many people to test for HIV and consult over related information.
Networks programmes have been developed in every ward and commune around the province, she said.
Along with efforts from health staff, committee chairman Khuong said local authorities also had helped create more jobs in the commune, reducing the number moving to Laos for jobs.
"A total of 2,500 people are working in Laos and the number has been stable since 2009," he said.
He noted that many people found they could earn well in their home village rather than moving to Laos for jobs.
This measure had also helped prevent the appearance of new HIV cases in the locality.
Now, Thuan is confident that locals are fully aware of HIV facts and he expects no more new case this year. — VNS