Testing positive for HIV is a traumatic event for most people in Vietnam, one that prompts thoughts of suicide and all too often, actual attempts to end it all.
The social stigma and ostracism that people are subjected to, as well as several misconceptions about the infection, seen typically as a death sentence, drive reactions and responses of those who are afflicted as well as their loved ones.
Local doctors are advising those who test positive for HIV not to become despondent and take drastic action because the condition can be treated now.
They also say that it is possible that the tests are not accurate.
Doctor Le Manh Hung, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Tropical Diseases Hospital, said HIV/AIDS is no longer a big threat thanks to medical innovations, and that an HIV infection does not mean the end of one’s life.
“First thing is to calm down, don’t ever think about suicide,” Hung said.
He said Health Ministry regulations require three positive tests on one blood sample before it can be determined that a person is infected.
If only one test has shown the person is negative, the tests have to be repeated two weeks later before any conclusion can be reached.
The doctor said errors have been recorded in labeling the samples or even “faulty technical performances” that have “altered the sample content.”
Homes have been wrecked because people have accepted HIV test results in haste.
Le Quang Danh from the central province of Ha Tinh was ostracized by his family and neighbors when he came home with a HIV positive result early this year.
He had undergone a health check at a local medical clinic to gather documents needed for him to work in South Korea. He had got the job after waiting for a long time and spending a lot of money on procedures.
News spread fast in the rural neighborhood that he lived in, and by the time he returned home from the clinic, practically the whole village had gathered at his door, and his wife was in tears, struggling to keep herself together.
A couple of days later, his two children, including the elder one, who had been among the province’s most gifted students for years, insisted on dropping out of school because their friends teased and shunned them.
Danh said he knew he had engaged in no risky behavior, so he had himself tested again at the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, where he tested negative for the virus.
He brought the news home but no one believed him, and losing confidence himself, Danh left home to work in Ho Chi Minh City, working at construction sites and saving money to get an HIV test done every three months at a major hospital.
After three more tests came back negative, he went home and demanded that commune authorities publicly clear his name.
The hostility against his family died out soon after. But his children had already dropped out of school. The elder daughter had begun working for a factory near Ho Chi Minh City and her brother had found work as a porter at a border gate in the province.
Dang Thai Chinh, 25, of HCMC, had to cancel her wedding when her fiancé broke up with her after she tested positive for HIV following a routine reproductive health check.
He immediately married another woman who had been following him for sometime.
The shock of the diagnosis and sickness caused Chinh to have pneumonia, which only confirmed the test results in her mind and that of her relatives.
However, when she sought treatment at the Pham Ngoc Thach Hospital in HCMC’s District 5, she found she never had HIV. This was confirmed by several subsequent tests at different places.
Her former fiancé, who’d had an unhappy marriage and was divorced, wanted to get back with her, but she rejected his proposal.
A survey of diagnostic tests done at HCMC hospitals in 2013 found 12.2 percent of biochemical test results were erroneous, as were 9 percent of blood tests, and 7.5 percent of immunity tests, according to officials at the Center for Standardization and Quality Control.
Tran Huu Tam, director of the center, said a large number of labs at district-level hospitals as well as private labs failed to comply with Health Ministry regulations, especially regarding diagnostic quality.
Nguyen Thi Nguyet, 32, lost a lot to the HIV stigma after she was informed that she had tested positive for the virus.
The HCMC resident, now proven clean, miscarried twice and aborted a deformed embryo in its fourth month during her five-year marriage.
Nguyet fears that the HIV treatments that she sought could have affected her babies, but she never dared discussed it with her husband.
Nguyet’d had sex with different boyfriends before her marriage.
When one of her ex-lovers died of HIV/AIDS, her fiancé cancelled their wedding.
Nguyet herself was on the verge of committing suicide after she underwent a test and was told she had been infected with the virus.
She said a friend stopped her from killing herself, and took her regularly to a HIV/AIDS treatment facility twice a week.
No further tests were done to see if the first test was accurate.
Nguyet was given pills and injections, which caused her pains and seizures, sometimes high fever and faint fits.
After six months, the doctor asked her to take a blood test to see what her condition was, and the result came in negative, as did tests that she underwent later at 10 different hospitals and clinics.
She got married and gave birth to a premature baby when she was 28. The 4-year-old girl now weighs just eight kilograms.
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