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A 'lifesaver' for people living with HIV at Vietnam-Laos border

A 'lifesaver' for people living with HIV at Vietnam-Laos border

Monday, May 15, 2023, 12:15 GMT+7
A 'lifesaver' for people living with HIV at Vietnam-Laos border
Lt. Col. Phan Van Thong has supported the club for HIV-infected people and drug addicts in Kim Son 1 Commune, Huong Son District, Ha Tinh Province, north-central Vietnam since its establishment. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

In an area on the border between Vietnam and Laos, there is a club that has become a hub of hope for many people who are drug addicts or have been living with HIV for years.

In addition, the club is also a place where many former gangsters have received support to rebuild themselves again and find a meaningful path for their lives after addiction.

A haunt of people who share their life situation

The club is an idea of the Border Guard Command at Cau Treo International Border Gate, which is under the Border Guard of Ha Tinh Province in north-central Vietnam.

At 8:00 am, Pham Quang Minh, a club member, stopped his car in front of the club in Khe 5 Village, Son Kim 1 Commune, Huong Son District, Ha Tinh.

As usual, he comes to the club to get methadone, which is prescribed to treat heroin and other opioid addictions and to relieve pain from certain diseases.

That morning, Minh welcomed two more new members to the club, which is growing in popularity among people who are addicted to drugs or carry HIV.

Minh used to trade wood across the border between Laos and Vietnam. During those years, he was lured into drug use. 

Being deep in drug addiction, Minh only focused on doing anything that supported the bad habit without caring about his work, which not only affected his health but also undermined his career.

In fact, villagers tend to distance themselves from people who are addicted to drugs like Minh.

To help him return to the community, border officials encouraged him to join the club and allowed him to perform some tasks such as loading and unloading packages, planting trees, and raising livestock. 

Thanks to their help, Minh has turned into 'an example of positive changes' to people who want to turn over a new leaf in their lives.

"I am lucky to have the support of the Border Guard Unit and the local women's association. I would not have known what to do if they had not helped me, maybe I would even be dead already," said Minh.

The club has held a monthly meeting on the 16th day of the lunar month for the past 13 years. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre News

The club has held a monthly meeting on the 16th day of the lunar month for the past 13 years in Ha Tinh Province, north-central Vietnam. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Manh Cuong, 35, from Tay Son Town in Huong Son District, said he had heard about the club for addicts for a long time, but only recently applied to join it.

"I have to change because no one believes in me when I am still a drug addict. I am trying to regain people's trust in me. I know it is extremely hard for me, but I will still try," Cuong confirmed.

"I asked to join the club to gain experience from other members like Minh. I want to find a new life after drug addiction."

Making a difference with love

According to Lt. Col. Phan Van Thong, who is from Cau Treo International Border Gate and has worked with the club since its foundation, Son Kim 1 Commune was notorious for drugs and HIV infection between 2004 and 2010.

During that time, there were many people using drugs in the community whose security was threatened by several criminal individuals.

In search of solutions to the problems, the Border Patrol Command at Cau Treo International Border Gate tried to control the situation by screening criminals as well as people who used drugs or were living with HIV and proposing appropriate methods to manage them.

In June 2010, when the club was first opened to drug addicts and people with HIV, many locals discriminated against and stayed away from them.

Despite the initial difficulties, the club has succeeded in convincing the people involved that there is nothing that cannot be changed if they have the will to do so, thanks to the dedication and perseverance of the initiators.

Tran Thi Gian, 63, former chairwoman of the Women's Association of Khe 5 Village, recalled that in the past many people were afraid to join the club for fear of being judged negatively.

Gian's family understood their concerns and showed understanding instead of isolating or discriminating against them.

"The number of people who become addicted has decreased significantly. Also, there are individuals who can successfully beat drug addiction after joining the club. Some can improve their health by taking methadone," Gian said.

The club's members, who once had a sad past, have been helped to put their lives in order and redefine themselves thanks to the help of the Border Guard and local authorities. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre News

The club members, who once had a sad past, have been helped to put their lives in order and redefine themselves thanks to the Border Guard and local authorities in Ha Tinh Province, north-central Vietnam. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

Helping people living with HIV earn a living

Due to the enthusiastic support of the Border Guard and local authorities, the number of club members has grown to 65 from an initial 15.

They meet regularly on the 16th day of each lunar month to be briefed by Lt. Col. Thong on the criminal cases that the Border Guard has solved recently.

The updates will keep club members informed and actively preventing themselves from getting involved.

In addition, medical officials will share their knowledge about HIV/AIDS prevention measures, the use of methadone to combat drug addiction, and contraceptive methods.

Remarkably, the club has an initiative called the 'Bank of Cows,' which allows club members to build their own financial capacity. 

This enables poor club members to receive a female cow carrying a fetus for raising.

After six months, when the cow has given birth to a calf that can live independently from its mother, the cattle will be returned to the club and then given to other needy members.

Le Dinh Dung, 38, is another man who has made positive changes in his life since becoming a member of the club.

He has been committed to beating drug addiction by taking methadone regularly, which helps him improve his health over time.

Thanks to the club's support, Dung has been able to take control of his own life by, for example, raising livestock. He can also support his disabled parents, too.

"I just hope my close relatives will not get involved in addiction," said the middle-aged man, adding that it is extremely troublesome and sinful for anyone to become addicted to drugs.

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Ha Thanh - Kim Thoa / Tuoi Tre News


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