Mother of seven children lives with HIV in refugee camp


HIV/AIDS is posing a challenge, partly because of the stigma involved with the condition. Photo: Mizzima

It’s hard enough for a widowed mother to support seven children, but 43-year-old Jar Raw also struggles with HIV. She has lived with the infection at the Jar Mai Kaung (St. Paul) refugee camp in Myitkyina in Kachin State for the past four years.

The sole breadwinner for her family, she’s overwhelmed by the obstacles she faces, like many refugees, and worries about her childrens’ future while she struggles to find the money to buy her children school supplies and other essentials.

Jar Raw’s husband died of HIV in 2012 and their youngest daughter is also infected by the disease.

Before reaching the refugee camp, she and her husband worked as agricultural laborers, while she also worked as a midwife. She believes she may have contracted HIV during her work as a midwife.

“I delivered many child in my life,” she said.After one of the children was delivered, she said she learned that the husband died of HIV, and she made contact with blood from that delivery.

“This is the only possibility I can recollect,” she said.

The other refugee families in her camp know she has HIV, she said. At first she suffered discrimination, but it lessened over time because of the camp’s HIV education campaign. Jar Raw teaches at the school in the refugee camp, and she sometimes counsels other women with HIV.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t be upset, take your medicine regularly. Don’t have insomnia or sleeping disorder. Don’t lose your appetite. Then you will be okay and be normal soon.”

“When we were in our village, I was very afraid of people living with HIV. Now I understand, and  we have no discrimination against these people. Previously, we used to say, hey, this woman has HIV, stay away from her, don’t mingle with her family…” Jar Raw said.

Four other widows with HIV live in the camp. “All of their husbands died of this disease,” she said

HIV positive women in the camp receive free drugs at a government hospital. The camp also has a high incidence of people receiving HIV drug therapy because they contracted the disease due to drug abuse problems. Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) offer assistance to victims.

The UNAIDS program operates a needle exchange program, an addiction treatment service, and conducts awareness and education campaigns on drug abuse in collaboration with NGOs.

A survey conducted by the Substance Abuse Research Association (SARA) in Myitkyina found that  three out of 10 drug users are infected with HIV, SARA Director Dr. Tun Tun Bren told Mizzima.

According to UNAIDS, there are 210,000 people living with HIV in Myanmar, and 30 people are infected with HIV everyday. According to the Ministry of Health, more than 100,000 people living with HIV are receiving antiretroviral therapy drugs from the government or NGOs.

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