The Forgotten People

By Beatriz T. Millena

Betty, a midwife by profession, is from the Diocese of Digos in Mindanao. She joined the PIME lay mission program two years ago. She was sent to Cambodia, a Buddhist country, in 2001 to work with HIV/AIDS patients in Phnom Penh, the capital. She tells us about the sad reality brought by this epidemic to the people of Cambodia.

What I had in mind when I left for Cambodia was that I would be involved with community development projects, similar to what I was doing back in the Philippines. I never expected that of all kinds of ministry, I'd up working with HIV/AIDS patients. I wanted to back out. I was scared and I told myself, ‘I won’t do this work.’


The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Cambodia is one of the most serious in Asia. Of their 13.4 million population, 3.2% of adults are infected with the HIV virus that often leads to AIDS. 100 new infections occur everyday with a total of 35,000 over the last year; 2.6 % of pregnant women are HIV infected. It is estimated that 3,500 HIV-positive babies will be born each year if nothing would be done about this.

War against AIDS

The government established a program called Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) almost three years ago in a limited number of hospitals with help from international NGOs and some local organizations. It also did research on the anti retro virus medicine called Nevirapine. The researchers found out that this tablet can prevent the transmission of the virus from mother to child -- 95% of cases. Pregnant mothers infected with HIV should take one tablet of Nevirapine during labor period and also give the baby one dose 72 hours after birth. But breastfeeding increases the risk of transmission from 5% to 32%.

Beatriz T. Millena

I work with the Maryknoll Sisters, one of the Catholic NGOs working in Cambodia. They set up a project in 1984 to care for people infected with AIDS. The purpose of this program is to prevent the transmission of the virus from mother to child.

The Difference I make

It pains me to see our patients, who are extremely poor, being abandoned by their family and friends when they need them the most -– their love, care and understanding. This is not particularly good especially for the pregnant patients. Pregnant women are supposed to be physically and psychologically sound so they’ll have a healthy pregnancy.

Every time I visit them, they tell me their stories, how lonely they are and how difficult life is for them. But I feel happy when they tell me that my presence means a lot to them. This is what makes my work here meaningful though it’s not easy. I have to be strong and emotionally stable especially when I’m attending to a dying patient. As a midwife, taking care of pregnant mothers is my expertise. But to help an HIV-positive mother in giving birth is an entirely different story.

I believe that what I'm doing now is my real task in a way that I can experience, live and share the compassion and love of Christ which I fully desire. If I said before that ‘I won’t do this work,’ now I’m glad I didn't listen to myself.