|© UNICEF Thailand/2005/Few|
|This watch helps Noo take her medicine on a time. It is a simple, but vital aid in her treatment for HIV/AIDS.|
As told to Robert Few
In the run-down meeting room of the AIDS Access Foundation, a small NGO in northern Thailand, sits a little girl called ‘Noo’ (not her real name). Her father is dead, as is her mother. They both died of AIDS-related illnesses, and the HIV virus was passed on to Noo.
Noo is 12 years old. In some ways she looks much younger, because the virus has left her painfully thin and has sapped her strength. But in her eyes and in her casual use of medical terms like ‘anti-retroviral’ and ‘opportunistic infection’ she seems much older.
Orphaned, impoverished and HIV-positive, she lives with her grandfather, who is an alcoholic. Noo runs the household. She does all the cleaning. She manages the finances, hiding money from her grandfather and giving him an allowance for necessities. Noo has to travel 70 kilometers to collect her medicine. She will only take the medicine in liquid form, which makes for a heavy burden when she carries a month’s supply. She does not trust anti-retroviral medicine in pill form because she watched her mother take them and die.
This is her story in her own words.
CHIANG RAI, Thailand, 11 January 2006 – “I have been ill for about a year. I feel breathless and I cough. I went to the local hospital and the doctor said I had an opportunistic infection. I went with my mother because she was still living then. They did some tests, but I didn’t know what was going on. The doctor didn’t know either, so I went to Chiang Mai Hospital. There they told my mother I had HIV. I knew that HIV meant AIDS and it made you weak.
“My mother died that year. After that my grandfather was drunk all the time and he used to hit me and shout at me a lot. For a while I stayed in a foundation, but my grandfather missed me. Now he just drinks a little but he can still work. He takes me to eat every day and sends me to the bus to come to AIDS Access.
“Now I am taking anti-retroviral drugs every day. I have to take them at 7 o’clock in the morning and 7 o’clock in the evening. The doctor told me to take them at the right time. I have been taking them for four months and now I feel stronger…and I can eat.
“I go to see the doctor once a month. I go on my own and that’s OK, but when I come back I have to carry all the heavy medicine myself.
“The healthcare worker gave me a watch to help me take the drugs at the right time. The watch is very useful because it rings every time I need to take my drugs. Otherwise I would forget. I am not afraid of AIDS. If I forget to take them, I have to take them as soon as I remember.
“If I take my drugs the disease gets better. It will never go away, but if I take my drugs, I won’t be sick.
“When my friends knew I was sick they would not come to play with me because I was so thin and they said, “Don’t come and study with us because you have AIDS.” But I know that AIDS is not something you can get easily and you can’t get it from playing. Now they understand and they come to see me at home or I go to see them. Their parents let us play together.
“I don’t really go to school because I don’t feel well. The teacher wants me to get a bit better before I go back to study. I am waiting for next year.
“I want to study and I want to be a business woman. I am 99 per cent sure that I will be strong enough, but I can’t be certain because I have a lung problem, and in the cold and rainy season I can’t breathe very well.”