The land of revival

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A hospital in the southern province of Binh Phuoc helps patients in the terminal stages of AIDS relieve both physical and emotional pain 

 Patients at Nhan Ai Hospital, which provides free treatment for people who live with AIDS in its terminal stages, in the southern province of Binh Phuoc / PHOTO COURTESY OF SGTT

Located more than 200 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, a 170-hectare hospital looks more like a resort on a hill, with a forest on one side and a hydropower reservoir on another side.

Its name is Nhan Ai, which means “humane” in English, but for long it has been described by local media as “the dead land,” referring to the fact that the hospital specifically admits people who are in the last stages of AIDS.

However, Nguyen Thi Thu Tinh, a psychological consultant with Nhan Ai, said: “The hospital is just like any other hospital. Some patients die, but some are discharged.”

Except for some patients who have to stay in the intensive care ward, patients here are just like “normal people,” according to Tinh.

People who are in good shape are asked to do jobs like gardening, breeding chickens, pigs and cows, cleaning, and distributing meals for others, she said.

Manh, a 67-year-old patient, said he was addicted to drugs for some 30 years before testing positive for HIV in 2008. Two years later he was admitted to Nhan Ai in very poor condition, but he is much better now.

Every day he does gardening and breeding, works as a psychological consultant to assist new patients, and does whatever he can for those who need help.

"I eat and work well; there’s nothing to fear,” he said.

He also said that his CD4 cell (which indicates the health of one’s immune system) count has increased from 80 cells per cubic millimeter of blood when he was hospitalized to nearly 300 now.

Manh said that although he sometimes feels sad because his children no longer come to visit him here, the hospital’s staff and other patients are always by his side.

“I had a bad past, but everything is different now. Here I’m not alone, and I’m trying to be a useful person to make up for my old mistakes.”

Dr. Nguyen Thanh Long, director of the hospital, said Nhan Ai was founded in 2006 by the HCMC People’s Committee to provide free treatment for AIDS patients from the city.

Not many people know about the hospital and it now mainly relies on the city’s budget, he said.

Despite certain financial difficulties, the hospital is full of compassion.

Except for a few people who are native to Binh Phuoc, the rest of the staff come from different places and their reasons for working there are also various, Long said.

But, “they are all attached to the hospital and their jobs; very few have quit or moved to other hospitals.”

However, he also said that due to the special working conditions, it is not easy to recruit people, so the hospital has to send its own employees to attend medical courses.

At the moment, some 270 health workers are working at Nhan Ai.

Be them doctors or nurses, the staff all attend in taking care of patients from medical treatment to their meals and sleeps. And, it is said that it's their kindness and love that has provided the relief from suffering that dying people need.

Xuan, 27, said when she was admitted to the hospital two years ago, she was dying with a body weight of 30 kilograms and her only wish at the time was to have an easy death.

But now, after a long treatment, she has gained weight and become much better.

Even though she feels sad about her sufferings, she forgets everything after a good night's sleep, Xuan said.

“It is great to live here; no one is discriminated against.”

According to Long, last year 53.7 percent of 919 patients who were admitted that same year were released, compared to the rate of 46.5 percent recorded in 2012 when 795 were hospitalized.

Meanwhile, 9.6 percent of the patients died last year, compared to 14.8 percent the year before.

“It is true that this place treats patients in AIDS’s terminal stages, but it is not the last destination of their life. It is a place where they can start a new life without discrimination,” Long said.

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