There once was a popular saying in Cambodia: “I don’t mind catching AIDS as long as I have fun while I’m catching it.”
But that saying is rapidly going out of style, Dr Hak Chan Roeun, head of Calmette Hospital’s AIDS program, said Wednesday.
Hak Chan Roeun led a team of about a dozen reporters on a tour of his ward as part of a five-day Ministry of Health training session for journalists. The session is meant to dispel misconceptions about AIDS.
Cambodia has made strides toward understanding the disease, but it still has a long way to go, Hak Chan Roeun said. He pointed to the ads in Khmer newspapers offering phony cures for the disease.
In Thailand, by contrast, “they even have sex on tables [but] they know how to control AIDS better.”
The group moved swiftly through the wards, peeking into rooms but not stopping to ask the patients any questions.
The story has already had plenty of coverage, said Tum Chita, a freelance reporter for Rasmei Kampuchea (Light of Cambodia). “It is not so interesting.”
But the reporters admitted being shocked by what they saw.
The patients’ faces “showed that they were totally helpless,” said Khy Chanthea, editor of the Khmer-language paper Dei Khmer (Land of Cambodia). “I saw they had swollen legs, ugly itchy skin. Some are very thin.”
On the way out, the reporters encountered Calmette Director Heng Tai Kry. One asked about rumors that doctors have to pay bribes to get good jobs.
“Why are you guys always cursing doctors?” Heng Tai Kry asked jovially. “Reporters work only eight hours a day. Doctors work 24 hours a day.”
Later on, the reporters giggled over the encounter.
“If the doctor worked 24 hours a day, he would look like those people who have AIDS,” said one reporter. “But he’s still fat.”