Over half of the world’s 40 million HIV-infected victims are in their adult productive prime of their life. Every year more than 11,000 more people get infected with HIV. While the eastern European countries and Asia are experiencing an alarming increase in the numbers of victims, Africa south of the Sahara has 25 million known cases which is so far the hardest hit area around the world. In Ukraine the number of people diagnosed with HIV has more than doubled since 2000 and today the country has the hardest hit in Europe. In Cambodia also it is estimated that around 1% of the population have HIV- AIDS, although the real numbers might be much higher. The women in Cambodia are facing one of the hardest cultural challenges in Asia; the cultural code“Chbap Srey” from the mid 19th century, placing them at a lower position than men. This code also contributes to the fact, that Cambodia has the highest rates of domestic violence with thousand of women are being raped, tortured and physically abused by their husband or close male relatives. Women are not bound by law to obey the cultural code, but it also does not protect them from the invasive punishment they encounter from their society.
The Srey Sophorn hospital was filled with noise and the smell of disinfectants. Next to an old Toyota Land cruiser, belonging to the French MSF, people were eating lunch with the smell of burnt corpses from the nearby Buddhist crematorium. At the back of the complex I found hospital’s AIDS ward. The patients with HIV- AIDS seemed pale and exhausted. Every movement required extreme effort and most of the patients just hung out. Most looked like they didn’t notice the world around them, however, every time I entered the room I was met with a stream of careful smiles. They moved Srey Pleng to another room, due to the lack of space. She didn’t like it. It was the male ward. Srey Pleng was 49 years old and was tested positive a year ago she got the infection from her husband few years before He died. Her youngest daughter Luot Sal Lge comes every day to take care of her mother and doesn’t attend any school. When I saw Srey for the first time, she had just been carried into the room, wrapped in her hammock. She looked like a human, whose soul had already found a channel out of her physical body. She had open wounds in her nose and mouth and flies were relentlessly trying to sit on the wounds.
Luot sat behind her mother and watched me. She then tapped her mother on the shoulder and whispered something in her ear. Srey opened her eyes and stared straight into me. Then she smiled with great effort. With this the end of her lips cracked and blood accumulated into a large drop which slowly crept down her cheek. I asked her if she was angry at her husband. My interpreter translated her tears: ‘No, she has forgiven him’.