(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Anyo, "I don't know whether I will live or die”

20-year-old Anyo survived Cyclone Nargis and now lives with HIV in Yangon
Lynn Maung/IRIN

After learning she was HIV-positive, 20-year-old Anyo (not her real name) returned to her village in the Ayeyarwady Delta, only to see it devastated by Cyclone Nargis - a disaster that left close to 140,000 people dead or missing.

In an effort to help her family, Anyo, one of an estimated 76,000 people living with HIV today in Myanmar, returned to Yangon and now works as a commercial sex worker.

"This year I faced two disasters. First, I learned I had HIV. Then I lost my father and home to the cyclone.

"I don't really know when I became infected, but guess I got it from my former boyfriend. We had lived together for about a year in Yangon when I was a student and he was a seaman.

“After our relationship ended in early 2007, I met a new boy, an engineer, and we decided to marry.

“But after visiting a health clinic to receive our blood test results, I learned I was HIV-positive and my boyfriend left me.

“My life has been on a downward spiral ever since. Even my closest friends wouldn’t speak to me.

“I decided to return to my village in Pyapon Township to be with my family, but never told them about my condition. Where I live, people have little awareness of HIV. They would never accept me and I was afraid of the stigma I would face.

“In Myanmar, learning you are HIV-positive is like receiving a death sentence, but at least with my parents and younger brothers I found solace.

“That all changed when Nargis struck, however. My father died trying to save us. I so wish I had died instead. My mother has yet to recover from this loss, and like my brothers, is heavily traumatised.

“I returned to Yangon to find a job – any job. I hoped I could help my brothers return to school. I so wished that they would finish their education.

”But finding a job proved impossible and I found myself working in a massage parlour. The pay wasn’t very good so after two months, I quit and joined a brothel downtown.

"Of course I don’t want to do this job. Who would? Burmese people are honourable people, but this is the only way I can earn some decent money.

“Now I receive about 300,000 kyat [US$240] per month. When I worked as a sales-girl, I could barely earn 50,000 kyat [$40] per month. What a difference!

"At this point, I just need to help my family. I don’t care about myself. As a person with HIV I won’t live long. Before I die, I want to send my family enough money so that they can start some kind of business to support themselves, perhaps a small grocery store.

"Already with the money I’m receiving, my mother doesn’t need to worry about the household expenditures and my brothers can return to school.

"Yet these days, I’m feeling weak and often get sick. My pimp seems dissatisfied with my service. A couple of weeks ago I went to Waibargi Hospital, which treats HIV/AIDS patients. A doctor measured my CD4 count, which was much lower than before.

"The doctor told me I should be taking ART [anti-retroviral therapy], but there were hundreds of people lining up for it.

"I was shocked to hear that many HIV patients actually die because they can’t receive ART in time.

"At this point, I don't know whether I will live or die.”


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