Vin’s experience with drugs and HIV

Vin has no job and already feels like a disappointment to his mother and siblings. The thought of them finding out about his drug use clearly causes him even more pain.

Vin has no job and already feels like a disappointment to his mother and siblings. The thought of them finding out about his drug use clearly causes him even more pain.

He looks at his friends, who are playing snooker nearby him. “I never let my mother or my siblings know about my drug use. If they know, they will get angry with me. I wish to see my lovely mother smile at me all the time, and I also want to help her because she is old now.”

Vin is 25 years old and lives in Battambang province, Cambodia. He is the fifth brother in a poor family. His mother is a widow and a single mother of eight children. Vin couldn’t attend school because his mother couldn’t support him, so he decided to drop out of school when he was in 6th grade.

Fear and shame

He said: “Before I started to use drugs, I used to work as a blacksmith in Battambang province for a short time, but I got low wages so I could not feed myself. I decided to resign and stay home.

“Then I went to a drop-in center occasionally. It is run by Opérations Enfants du Cambodge, which is the implementing partner of KHANA [a member of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance] in Battambang province. I come to this center because I meet my friends, share experiences with my friends, and receive education on HIV, sexually transmitted infections and sexual health.

“However, I have never gone to see a doctor at the government health center because I feel ashamed. I have had many sexual partners, but sometimes I use a condom and sometimes I don’t. I also feel afraid that I have received HIV or a sexually transmitted infection from a partner.”

According to a 2013 report from the Ministry of Health (pdf), approximately 13,000 people use drugs, but the actual number is probably far higher. HIV prevalence among Cambodians who use drugs is estimated to be 1.1%, but it’s a startling 24.4% for people who inject drugs, partly because of sharing needles and equipment but also because people who inject drugs are less likely to use condoms.

Living with hope

Vin said: “I don’t know what will happen in the future if I cannot stop using drugs and have no job. I am not sure who would want to marry me if they know I use drugs.”

Vin believes that organizations, the government and other stakeholders should establish a free rehabilitation center for people who use drugs. The center should train its clients in vocational skills and help them live with the same hope as people who do not use drugs.

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