Cambodia: ending HIV stigma in hospitals

patient in Chey Chumneas hospital

patient in Chey Chumneas hospital

“They turned my patient away because she was HIV positive.” Discrimination of people living with HIV is found in every layer of society. Dr Vuthy King, from CAFOD partner Maryknoll, explains how he is working to stamp out stigma in the medical profession

“Some hospitals in Cambodia do not like to operate on people living with HIV. In Phnom Penh there are eight hospitals. In my experience, only two will operate on HIV-positive patients.

“This is not hospital policy, but a decision made by the surgeons. If medical professionals discriminate against HIV-positive people, you can imagine what kind of reactions they face from the public in general.

“A few years ago, I had a patient with appendicitis. I sent the patient to the nearest hospital at 9pm. But they said they wouldn’t operate on her because she had HIV. She would have to wait until 9am the next day so they could hold a meeting to discuss her case.

“When I went back at 10am, they rejected her from the hospital. By this time she was in a critical condition. I drove her to another hospital but they also refused to treat her. Finally the third hospital I went to accepted her.

“The Maryknoll hospice opened in 2000. We were the first non-governmental organisation in Cambodia to open a free hospice for poor people living with HIV.

“Almost 1,000 patients have used this hospice since it opened. Many would have died without the care they received here. Some poor people sell everything, their land, livestock, and home, to pay for medical bills because hospital fees are expensive.

“But when they recover they have no way to support themselves. It is a vicious trap for poor people. “We treat those with opportunistic infections like TB or meningitis. We also do complicated medical procedures like lumbar punctures but we’re not equipped to perform full operations.

“Recently, we opened a specialist HIV wing in Chey Chumneas hospital. We provide consultations with the patients and assess their needs. People travel from miles around to come and see us because they know they will receive the best staff. We are teaching hospital staff to treat HIV positive people with respect and care."

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