Woman's 12-year HIV nightmare finally ends

Woman's 12-year HIV nightmare finally ends

A tearful but happy Suthida Saengsumat speaks to the press after learning the HIV test result at the Thai Red Cross Aids Research Centre in Bangkok on Thursday. (Photo by Penchan Charoensuthipan)
A tearful but happy Suthida Saengsumat speaks to the press after learning the HIV test result at the Thai Red Cross Aids Research Centre in Bangkok on Thursday. (Photo by Penchan Charoensuthipan)

A young woman who suffered under the discrimination that followed being diagnosed HIV infected as a child was finally freed of her anguish after being retested at the Thai Red Cross Aids Research Centre (TRC-ARC) on Thursday.

Suthida Saengsumat, 20, went to the centre in Bangkok for a second HIV test on Thursday, after a previous test there on May 23 showed she was HIV-negative. 

Dr Praphan Phanuphak, the TRC-ARC director, told a news conference 30 minutes later she was free of HIV. He confirmed the results of the two tests were consistent.

Ms Suthida then burst into tears. She effusively thanked the doctors involved and said society should now stop discriminating against her because she was not an HIV-Aids sufferer.

"My children, from now on you will not have to be embarrassed or hide from others. We will live together again. We will never be apart anymore, because I do not have Aids," cried the mother of two children, aged 5 years and 1 year.

Her HIV nightmare began when she was 8-years-old. Her teachers took her for an HIV test at a hospital in Roi Et province because her mother had a severe allergy and her father had died of Aids.

The first test showed she was infected with the virus. There was no second test to confirm the diagnosis. She had been suffering the anguish ever since.

She said everybody, including neighbours and schoolmates, distanced themselves from her. Consequently she did not want to go to school.

"Finally I dropped out and grew up an uneducated person, although I dreamed of becoming a doctor," Ms Suthida said.

Later she married, and although she used contraception she fell pregnant. She decided to keep the child, now aged 5 years. When HIV tests on the newborn baby proved negative, she sought a fresh HIV test for herself. It proved negative, so she stopped taking her HIV medication.

Even so, she continued to have doubts about her health.

Finally, lawyer Songkran Achariyasap brought her to Bangkok for retesting at the Thai Red Cross centre. Thursday's test result, confirming she was not infected, had given her a new life, Ms Suthida said.

Dr Praphan said modern day tests were much more accurate than they were many years ago, with an error rate of only 1/1000.

The case of Ms Suthida typically showed that Thai society had little understanding about HIV-Aids and unfairly discriminated against infected people, who actually could live normal lives like other people and contribute to society, the director of the Aids research centre said.

Dr Sombat Thanprasertsuk, of the Disease Control Department, said doctors were now concerned about the side effects of the HIV medication Ms Suthida had been taking since a child and until comparatively recently.

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