PHNOM PENH -- Pong Onn was infected with HIV by her husband four years ago. Her anti-retroviral treatment (ART) is free, but its side effects, along with her poverty, make her life difficult.
Last year, things got worse when Pong Onn’s husband died suddenly, leaving her to care for their daughter alone. Immediately afterwards, her health deteriorated. She became unable to work and she soon didn’t have enough money to buy food and other needs.
That was the hardest period of my life,” she says, recalling how she began the slow recovery after being readmitted to a programme run by WFP and a local NGO, Cambodian HIV/AIDS Education and Care (CHEC). The programme, which she had already been part of a few years earlier, provides monthly food support to people living with HIV and other affected populations, such as orphans and vulnerable children.
“Without the help of CHEC and WFP, I probably would have died,” she says. A team from the WFP-CHEC programme visited her regularly, reminding her of food distributions and ART appointments. It took a full year for Pong’s health to improve again.
Pong Onn first joined the care programme shortly after it started in 2006. As well as providing food, the initiative also involves training aimed at ensuring people have livelihoods. There are training programmes on chicken-raising and piglet-rearing, for example. Pong Onn, who had just been diagnosed HIV positive, could barely survive on her limited resources after buying her essential medicine. So she joined the programme.
“Luckily, my daughter was not infected with HIV,” says Pong, who had treatment while she was still pregnant to prevent HIV transmission to her daughter.
After 12 months, with her health and economic resources stable, Pong was able to leave the programme. She took control of her life and joined a self-help group, receiving training on good nutrition for people living with HIV. She educated her peers about nutritious food and the importance of knowing their monthly body mass index.
Now, after recovering from her husband's death, this counselling helps to keep Pong healthy. She is strong enough to work and she can support herself and her daughter. Pong Onn now earns extra income selling groceries, and she has invested in chicken-raising with a small loan from an NGO. In addition, her daughter now goes to school and has a bright future ahead of her.