URGENT ACTION NEEDED:
HIV/AIDS IN CAMBODIA


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Battambang province is located in northern Cambodia.

I first visited Battambang provincial hospital during the civil war in 1994.
At that time, Khmer Rouge Guerillas and Government forces were fighting nearby.
The hospital was filled with war casualties and landmine victims. Those were grim times.

Although the civil war ended in 1998, I have since discovered that the tragedy of HIV/AIDS has become a new civil war. Cambodia lost 1.7 million people during the civil war. In this new era of peace, Cambodia is at war again | with a new, invisible enemy |HIV/AIDS.

In 2001 I returned to Battambang hospital and began to document the ravages of HIV/AIDS
in Cambodia.

For the past two years, I have been covering the HIV/AIDS issue in Cambodia and my most recent documentary work, gURGENT ACTION NEEDEDh is an offering of these images.

I took a new approach with this documentary, engaging the HIV+ people and public health staff caring for them to include their personal messages of how their lives have been affected by this crisis. This is to give a voice to those who are often only seen |but not heard |and by participating in the documentary |to give them a sense of dignity and the affirmation that what they feel matters.

Because of the continuing social stigma attached to HIV+ people, and the painful shame
that people with AIDS are made to bear, the patients and their families avoid naming their illness. NGOs in Cambodia have made important steps in educating people about HIV/AIDS.

But more work is needed reduce the cruel discrimination that people infected and affected
by AIDS face in their villages, schools and families.

The lack of information about HIV/AIDS among poorly-educated Cambodians also means that
many patients and their families may not be clear about what HIV/AIDS is - or how it is transmitted | or what its effects are on their bodyfs immune system. They may simply describe their illness as a gchest infectionh or glack of appetite and loss of strengthh because they are not fully aware that they have been infected with HIV.

For others, they may be ghidingh@the reality of the disease - to themselves and their
loved ones- out of fear. This accounts for why the diary passages of the patients in this documentary may not openly refer to AIDS.

Most of the patients request support for medicine and food.
Some NGOs provide 1000 riel (about 25 cents in USD) per day for support.

Unlike in developed countries, access to excessively expensive anti-retro viral (ARVs) medicines are out of reach for HIV+ Cambodians |ordinary medicines such as aspirin or antibiotics to treat secondary infections are an unaffordable luxury. Is this fair?

Most patients are weak, they don't know where to turn or who to appeal to for help.
It is as though they have lost their right to live.

In many cases, when the patients shared these messages, they could still stand up.
When I came back to see them, many had died. The medical staffs at the hospitals carry
out noble work and told me how frustrated they were from the limited by the availability
of even basic medical supplies.It hurts them to helplessly watch the AIDS patients suffer and they provide the best care they can under very difficult circumstances.

These messages are their last hope.

Masaru Goto's UA project.

 

 

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