Many people from countryside thinks that only sex workers get infected with HIV. This is why many women who get HIV from their husbands are treated as outcasts.

Afternoon in the home, many of the patients are determined to get back to their health. Especially mothers with children. They know as the head of the family died, that their children have no one but their mothers.

“- Sweety, just tell them what you helped me when I was sick”. “I helped her cook the meals I knew how to make,” Said Aye Pa Pa Oo. The 12-year old girl has been taking care of her mother ever since her physical condition worsened.

“I want the victims to come here, get treatment and try their best to keep healthy. They must try to live healthy as they have kids to take take care of,” said a mother who has HIV after coming to the hospital.

Evening at the Cambosa 2 street. A yellow light from a motorbike falls on the thorny bushes and the gate.

“When you got this disease, instead of losing hope, you should try to be a useful person in life at least by contributing with what you can,” said a 36 year old volunteer and a HIV positive patient San Myint Winn.

“The rate of HIV victims in Myanmar is increasing though it should not be,” said a volunteer and patient of NLD HIV prevention and care hospital. Myanmar has the highest rate of HIV prevalence rate among young adults after Thailand and Cambodia.

A patient told before having HIV his economic condition was good. He spent everything on his medication and now that he has found a good doctor, he does not have any money to give him.

9. NLD HIV prevention and care hospital is the home for more than 100 patients who come and go regularly seeking medication and expert care here.

Many of the patients find strength in praying. They find strength through meditation. There are many monks who train the patients to meditate and preach religious views.

Ailing Dreams

I thought he was a volunteer in the hospital. In the evening when I would return from the hospital, he would walk with me to find me a taxi. I felt he was a really enthusiastic helping hand for the patients. Later on I came to know he was a patient himself. The gratification that I saw in his face while working is one of the most beautiful views. As if they have found the purpose of their life. This is why the trivial most task of their daily life has become something special and more than just chores. I realized that this gratification comes from somewhere deep inside. They are thankful that they are still alive, thankful that they can still walk, talk and love. This thankfulness made their lives easy and simple just like us, who does not have HIV. I could feel that peace in that space. Most of them shared a similar kind of mental state. For instance San Myint Winn. The 36 year old volunteer and patient gives a message to the other HIV positive patients: “- When you got this disease, instead of losing hope, you should try to be a useful person in life at least by contributing with what you can.”

As I spoke to a woman, she said she didn’t know how she got HIV. Her husband was a simple peasant, who spent his life with his family in the village. Her husband died out of TB. Most of the HIV patients are extremely vulnerable to this disease. Even after two years of her husband’s death, she still wonders how he got infected. I felt it was more than just ignorance. She loved her husband too much to think that he got HIV from a sex worker or drug using and passed this disease to her and his 4 year old son. They were no different from the women of my own country: Loving wife, mother and daughter. One of the mothers said “On that very day that my husband had the disease, I cried my eyes out. I felt really sad, you know”. But now after coming to the hospital a 12 year old girl Aye Pa Pa O said that “- I am happy here”.

Through my photographic journey I tried to capture that intimacy and love at that space. This is a story about them, but this is also a story about the love and intimacy that I felt they shared with me.

NLD HIV Prevention and care hospital is situated in the South Dagon, Kambosa 2 street. It is the home of around 100 HIV positive patients. This place is like a drop of water in a dry desert considering that Myanmar has highest rate of HIV prevalence rate among young adults after Thailand and Cambodia. Intravenous drug use, criminal nature of sex working and lack of awareness among the people of border areas makes it extremely difficult to formally address this issue by NGOs and GOs. There are several volunteers who visit this place along with two other places on a regular basis. Yet after a while I realized the medication and other donation that they receive are not sufficient. Many among them were extremely poor and socially vulnerable, having HIV have added to that situation. Also thousands of people remain unreachable to test for HIV because of the lack of government effort. They continue to put their and other people’s lives at risk till today.

by Habiba Nowrose

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