Battling HIV Devastation in Myanmar

Two Stories from the Front Lines

By Sr. Mary Dillion

In mid-September 2017, a family of three, Aik Ket aged 30 years old, his wife San Bu, also 30 years old, and their only child Chit Oo Mya, just three years old arrived at our shelter at the Hope Center. Before Aik Ket married his wife four years previously, he had worked in the jade and gold mines at Hpakhan, Kachin State. Like most of the other internal migrant workers at the mines, he had become accustomed to using heroin for recreational purposes, unaware and unconcerned about the possibility of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C. "My body was asking for the drug, I could not think about the possibility of disease," he told me.

Aik Ket, San Bu and Chit Oo Myra
Aik Ket, San Bu and Chit Oo Myra

He met his wife San Bu in a nearby village; they fell in love and eventually got married. They had dreams, bought land and set about making a living for themselves. Chit Oo Mya was born a healthy child, and everything looked good. But then Aik Ket's energy began to lessen, and he was unable to work the farm. In May 2017, the couple went to a local hospital, and he was diagnosed as HIV positive.

At first the doctor only informed San Bu; she felt totally helpless and cried to herself for days. Thankfully San Bu has a very good relationship with her husband's family, and she confided in her sister-in-law. The family is very supportive and encouraged her to take Aik Ket to a larger hospital for treatment. Aik Ket was also diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB). San Bu had herself tested, and she also showed up HIV positive. Their world had fallen apart. With the help of a Buddhist monk, who is a friend of Aik Ket, they arrived at the Hope Center.

It had been a very difficult time for the family. Aik Ket developed swollen neck glands and a severe knee abscess. San Bu commenced anti-retro-viral treatment and responded well, but their worst nightmare came true when their only child, Chit Oo Mya, was diagnosed HIV positive.

Chit Oo Mya developed a reaction to her medication twice and had to be admitted to the hospital. San Bu has had to silently carry this great fear and disappointment; most nights she cries herself to sleep. Deep in her heart, her greatest pain is, she tells me, "that we are not like other families, we have all got a disease." She has not been able to share her disappointment with her mother or her own brothers and sisters.

Another story concerns HkinOo, his wife Ying Lwin and their three children and the dire poverty, ethnic prejudice, and heroin addiction that was deeply ingrained in their life. Domestic violence was an everyday occurrence in this family with Ying Lwin scurrying across the rice paddy fi elds to take shelter and respite in her uncle's home.

Deep in her heart, her greatest pain is, she tells me, “that we are not like other families, we have all got a disease.”

We were first introduced to the family in August 2017 when a nurse at the general hospital asked the Home Based Care program if we could help. At this time the youngest child, who was 17 months old, was sick in the hospital and had been diagnosed HIV positive. The mother and baby had no food or clothing.

Over the weeks we got to know the family. The mother was diagnosed HIV positive, and both she and her baby moved to our shelter to begin their treatment. Ying Lwin shared with us the diffi cult life she had with her husband; he used to continually beat her and demanded that she make money available for him "to shoot up and quench his cravings."

Apart from the youngest child who is HIV positive, they have two older children. Their son who is twelve years old lives in a Buddhist temple and has never attended primary school; their eight year old daughter lives with her parents and is attending school.

HkinOo was a hardened man, and communication was difficult with him. Eventually we were able to gain his confidence, and he agreed to be tested. He tested positive for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and he also had a severe form of tuberculosis. HkinOo commenced treatment, but it was too late. His condition went into a downward spiral as he developed one infection after another. After four weeks, having developed liver failure, he died.

During this time we remained close to the family, and we helped with the funeral expenses. Now we are in the process of building a small bamboo house for Ying Lwin and her children. Life is always going to be tough and a struggle for this marginalized family. They are penniless, but with Home Care support and accompaniment over the next number of months, we are hopeful that Ying Lwin will develop confidence to seek out a job and be able to support herself and her three small children.

Sr. Mary Dillon is from Ireland and celebrated her golden jubilee as a Columban Sister in 2017. With help from generous benefactors she set up the Hope Center in Myitkyina, Mynamar, for people with HIV/AIDS.


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