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CAMBODIA: Vanna Rainsey, "There was no PMTCT programme...I had my baby aborted"

Photo: Lynn Maung/IRIN
"My mother forced me to have an arranged marriage to a man who was also HIV-positive"
Johannesburg, 30 December 2008 (PlusNews) - On the morning in April 1975 when Khmer Rouge troops marched into the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, AIDS activist Vanna Rainsey* was just two weeks old. She spoke to IRIN/PlusNews about her family's displacement during the civil war and how she almost became a mother.

"[The Khmer Rouge) forced my family to migrate to Kampot Province, a rural area more than 100km from our home [in Phnom Penh]. My father was killed there in 1977; I have no memories of him.

"After the Khmer Rouge [regime ended], my mother and I were relocated to Phnom Penh, but conditions were very poor and, like many others at this time, my mother decided to move to the Site 2 Camp on the Thai-Cambodia border with the hope of finding work and migrating to France.

"In 1993, while at the camp, I developed a severe infection in my left foot and needed an operation, during which I lost a lot of blood and required a transfusion. The blood was unscreened and I became HIV-positive. Just after this, the United Nations repatriated all refugees back to Phnom Penh.

"Back in the city, I worked to support my family; then I fell very sick. I had skin rashes, diarrhoea, no appetite. I was so thin – I weighed only 43 kilos. I decided to go to the hospital and the doctor tested my blood and told me I was HIV-positive without giving me any counselling or information.

"My CD4 count [a measure of immune system strength] was only 42 and the doctor told me I would probably die within one year. I felt hopeless, shocked and hurt.

"I experienced stigma and discrimination at this time. My colleagues came to visit me at the hospital, but when I came back to work no one would come near me. There were many misunderstandings about HIV at the time.

"My mother felt very uncomfortable with me and would not care for me. Instead of being at home, I had to stay at the hospital. Then I got antiretroviral therapy just in time.

"My mother thought that because I was single and HIV-positive people would judge me and say that I was a bad woman. So she forced me to have an arranged marriage to a man who was also HIV-positive. I had sex with my husband without using condoms because I didn't know about the risks of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

"After about two years of marriage, I got pregnant. My pregnancy came at a time when I was becoming progressively weaker and falling sick regularly. I was so thin at that time because of morning sickness.

"I went to the doctor and he told me to have an abortion. He said that I could not carry the baby because my CD4 count was too low and because there was not a prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme in place.

"I had my baby aborted. After, I was in great pain and felt my heart had broken because I wanted to start my own family."

llg/ks/he

*not her real name

Theme(s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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