July 3, 2007 / 5:32 AM / 12 years ago

HIV-positive Vietnamese send message through arts

NHA TRANG, Vietnam (Reuters Life!) - Vietnamese choreographer Ke Doan says his attitude changed toward people with HIV and AIDS after he helped create performances that tell their stories through dance, music and song.

“At first I was afraid that when practicing I would have to hold their hand or hug them or hold them up and whether that contact could bring me HIV,” he said at a gathering of performers in the south-central coastal town of Nha Trang.

“Now I fully understand about the transmission and I know I can hug them and touch them and share food,” said Doan, choreographer of the Hanoi Youth Theatre.

Vietnam has relatively progressive policies on prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS, but stigma and discrimination are an obstacle to awareness programs, public health experts say.

Traditional opera and dance, comedy and magic acts are used by various self-help groups nationwide to provide information and also give psychological and material support to those infected.

Several groups using performance arts met in Nha Trang to mark more than two years since the start of “HIV/AIDS Art-based communication, care and support for PLWHA,” the acronym for People Living With HIV and AIDS.

DANCING TO AWARENESS

Swaying gracefully in long green, yellow and red dresses with pink shawls, four women sang in mournful, high-pitched voices about a woman whose husband became HIV-infected from using dirty needles to inject heroin and transmitted the virus to his wife.

One of the performers, Vu Thi Gai, 36, supports two children and lives with her parents-in-law after her migrant worker husband died of AIDS.

“I would like the audience to better understand more about people living with HIV and AIDS like me,” said Gai, a member of the Camellia club in the northeastern port of Haiphong, which has one of the highest rates of HIV in Vietnam.

Other performers with HIV or AIDS came to Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa province from Ho Chi Minh City in the south, Hanoi and Thai Binh province in the north.

Hoang Manh Hung, 24, dressed in a light blue shirt along with other members of the Youthful Desire club from Ho Chi Minh City, said their performances of modern dance and popular songs “also describe how needle-sharing not only causes HIV but other diseases such as hepatitis.”

The program also includes sewing, beading, drawing, writing and painting. It is run by Hanoi-based Center for Community Health and Development, a Vietnamese non-governmental organization supporting HIV and AIDS-affected people to find health and social services.

Vietnam’s epidemic is less advanced than its neighbors Cambodia and Thailand, but the United Nations estimates there are nearly 300,000 HIV infections in a population of 85 million.

Most HIV infections in Vietnam are from sharing dirty needles to inject heroin or unprotected sex with sex workers, but the epidemic is beginning to extend to people beyond those commonly considered most at risk.

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