Saturday, July 18, 2009

HIV & Feminism in Vietnam

My teacher and I went in a hospital to talk to HIV patients. We talked to one. (On a side note, it was SO ODD to me that no one checked us in and we just freely walked in and picked a bed and random patient to talk to and even weirder that he was willing to answer our questions and share about his personal history. I guess one of the differences between US and Vietnamese culture.) He contracted HIV from "relations" which I assume to mean an extramarital affair or he hooked up with a prostitute.

His wife was with him and she didn't even wanna get checked! I told her she should really get checked. If I were her, I'd definitely be, because she might have HIV now and two, because he cheated on her and in the end, who is taking care of him? her. I guess I'm especially irritated because it seems like such a NORM for Vietnamese men to do...extramarital affairs or prostitutes (variations of...massage, at a bar, at a cafe shop, comes with beer, on the street)...a sign of manhood. And women in Vietnam are expected to take it like their grandmothers, their mothers, their sisters, and their neighbors...they all take it. Vietnamese women are PRAISED for their sacrifices...for the crap they have to put up with. Just in Malaysia, a Vietnamese women who was in Malaysia to work told me about how her husband would beat her several times a day and she still stayed for the kids. Finally it seemed like he was trying to kill her and with advice from her daughter, she finally left.

I asked him how he knew to get checked. He had a fever that wouldn't go away and then he went into the hospital and got several scans that seemed ok and finally they checked his blood. This particular hospital in Saigon (or this particular building) is for HIV patients when they turn their health is taking a turn for the worse. Otherwise, they should just be taking their medicine regularly outside of the hospital. I was most curious about prevention. Did he know how to protect himself? He said no, and he also said he didn't think enough...I'm not sure what that answer means. I asked him about sex education in school...he didn't go to school. He worked in the rural areas, and a lot of poor children or children in rural areas stop going to school. What I did read about sex education in VN though is that it's very biologically based and hard to understand. I also asked him now that he knows he is infected, has anyone told him what to do to protect others. He said nope, they just give him medicine a couple times a day. That's terrible. That information is CRUCIAL!

I was talking to one of my other teachers...his wife is part of an organization that counsels HIV patients...I am planning to call to see how I can help. Health education is SO SO important and part of this situation breaks my heart because that knowledge is a privilege that I often take for granted as a Public Health major but important knowledge that they didn't have.

Medical system in VN

I've made an active effort to learn more about the medical system here.

My doctor friend took me on a tour of the hospital and answered my questions (when I volunteered to teach English in SF, one of my students turned out to be a doctor in Saigon...crazy where connections can take you).

So I always think the doctors in America don't give each patient enough time. Vietnamese doctors are seeing about 20 patients an hour. I was like....what the???! How is that possible unless they walk in and out the door. Also, each hospital has another floor for people who are willing to pay more...the floor isn't amazing. There's still a bunch of beds in one room and all the patients can see each other..and those are the good rooms. They said that if they had money, they would also have curtains like in America. The emergency room is just a big room with a bunch of beds and sick or injured people laying on it waiting to be seen or pushed into the appropriate department.

Health insurance is given only to the selected care providers automatically have it. Right now health care insurance in Vietnam is all public, but according to the doctor I talked to, only 30% of the population have's really hard to get it, even if you have money. Furthermore, right now they are trying to switch to universal health care insurance.

Abortion is legal here and seems to be done pretty frequently...for younger girls (under 18), they need parental consent...but not really. Money solves all, and it's such a taboo here that the doctor will just do it anyway rather than make the girl deal with family reputation and such being lost. One of my Vietnamese friends (a few years older than me) says a lot of her friends have gotten pregnant and gotten abortions already.

That's pretty much all I know for now.