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Hospital 9 in Hanoi is filled with patients, but lacks the large crowds of family caretakers and visitors that usually fill the halls of Vietnamese hospitals.

The reason is it treats and befriends people with HIV/AIDS, many of whom have been shunned by friends and families.

It was first opened for AIDS patients from prisons, but then expanded to accept all those afflicted. It quickly garnered a bad reputation as many of its patients were ex-cons, prostitutes, drug addicts and various members of the underworld.

A Lao Dong report last month said the hospital is sometimes referred to as the "garbage dump" of society, where the patients are wished dead by their own families.

Doctors said only 20 percent of the patients have family members that visit regularly, and even then it's usually just for a few minutes at a time.

They often call patient's families to inform them of their relative's condition, only to be asked "Did he/she die yet?"

Doctor Vu Duc Phe told Lao Dong he was shocked when one time he saw a family member of a patient sneak in an intensive care room to remove the respirator tube.

Many patients feel so alone that they refuse to take their medicine. Other forms of suicide, from wrist slashing to jumping from high floors, have also been seen at the hospital, according to Phe.

He said that doctors at the hospital thus had no other choice than being friends of the patients.

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Doctor Hoang Hai Ha said last stage AIDS patients sometimes act like they don't give a damn, but that is only because their families have abandoned them and they feel worthless.

Ha said most patients actually have the will to change their life and they often do so when doctors are supportive and encouraging enough.

Phuong Anh and Thang, a couple once treated by Ha, are now starting their own business in the face of brutal discrimination.

The couple first ran a small shop selling breakfast.

But when they registered for temporary residency with local ward authorities, their HIV records became common knowledge and customers abandoned the shop.

They have since moved to a new area and have opened a souvenir shop.

"Life is so harsh," Thang once told Ha after his discharge, cited by Lao Dong. "We are shunned from time to time. It's so difficult to be good people."

Ha understands such harshness more than other doctors at the hospital as he was once exposed to the virus and suffered a long period of of isolation at the hands of his colleagues.

One night in 2001, Ha was taking blood samples for HIV tests from eight drug addicts arrested by police.

One of them injected him with a syringe containing HIV-infected blood. Ha was then 30 and married with a child less than one year old.

The doctor said he immediately took medication to fight the virus but was also ready to begin living the days as his last.

He said the saddest part, according to Ha, was the discrimination from other doctors, who even avoided touching things on his desk.

Ha returned to normal life after continuously testing negative for the virus during a year of treatment and medication.

Since then, Ha has built a better connection with his patients.

He said Hospital 9 are not in it for the money.

The doctors have no private clinics and the patients only receive cheap or free treatments.

Thus, Ha said it takes a real love of the career to work at number 9, and the support of one's family, which both Phe and Ha said they are thankful they have.

Most other doctors there have to hide the fact that they work at Hospital 9 from their families, as those close to them argue that the low income is not worth being attached or close to AIDS in any way.

Three doctors left the institution in 2010. The hospital offered many vacancies last year but only one was filled.

Ha said not everything is gloomy.

He said the hospital has succeeded in it's main mission, which is to bring patients not only hope for survival, but hope for a better life.

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