Following his marriage and the birth of his first child, Nguyen Thanh Duong was enjoying the happiest time of his life. "This was my heaven on earth," he says, "I could not ask for more."
But Duong and his wife were soon dealt a devastating blow. Not only did they both test positive for HIV, but their newborn died of AIDS-related complications. Duong himself was near death from untreated opportunistic infections. Wasting away, he knew it was time for his family to start preparing for his funeral.
But the funeral plans were put on hold shortly after Duong began receiving antiretroviral treatment from a newly-opened clinic in northern Vietnam's Quang Ninh Province. The clinic, supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), offers free antiretroviral therapy, treatment of opportunistic infections, and support services to the poor and vulnerable.
After recovering from his opportunistic infections, clinic staff asked Duong if he would work as a counselor, helping to identify other people in need and encouraging them to seek services.
Today, Duong escorts people to HIV testing sites and helps enroll those who test positive into care and treatment programs. He is a compassionate presence to those who are newly diagnosed as HIV-positive and don't know where to turn for help.
After participating in an intensive paraprofessional nursing course - an innovative solution to the shortage of HIV/ AIDS health care workers in Vietnam - Duong also became an "HIV Medic." Now, along with dozens of other people living with HIV/AIDS, Duong takes on some of the clinical, counseling and administrative responsibilities of nurses and doctors so that medical staff can care for a larger numbers of patients.
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