The 29th of December 1993 was a day of rejoicing for Pan
and Noi when their baby girl Rattikarn entered the world. Their joy,
however, was short lived. Pan passed away in 1994 and Noi died two years
later leaving Rattikarn in the care of her grandparents.
The orphaned baby was an innocent victim of a scourge
that’s sweeping north Thailand. She was born to parents who were suffering
Thongkhuman is the chief of the Family Medicine Section at nearby Phan
Hospital where she has worked as an AIDS counselor for the last thirteen
years. She is deeply concerned by the plight of the growing number of
orphans in the area and is doing everything she can to help alleviate their
Amazingly Rattikarn tested negative to the HIV virus and
grew up a happy, healthy, normal child. She was never sick and was a very
bright student. At eight years of age, she seemed to have a promising future
ahead of her.
But just before her ninth birthday, she started losing
weight dramatically. Her grandparents watched helplessly as she deteriorated
away to become a tragic bundle of skin and bones.
before Rattikarn’s ninth birthday, she started losing weight dramatically.
Her grandparents watched helplessly as she deteriorated away to become a
tragic bundle of skin and bones. For the next three months she sat on the
floor of her grandparent’s hut waiting to die.
For the next three months she sat on the floor of her
grandparent’s hut waiting to die. Her grandfather used to go out to work
every day, finding odd jobs to earn the fifty baht needed to buy anti biotic
mouth wash and other medicines to help ease her chest infection but, without
life saving drugs, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to save
her. She died a few weeks ago.
Plearnsuk Thongkhuman is the chief of the Family Medicine
Section at nearby Phan Hospital where she has worked as an AIDS counselor
for the last thirteen years. She is deeply concerned by the plight of the
growing number of orphans in the area and is doing everything she can to
help alleviate their misery.
This means providing basic needs such as words of comfort
and encouragement, and small amounts of food, clothing, and medicine. Each
time she visited Rattikarn she brought a carton of milk and a bag of
Chiangmai apples which were one of the child’s favorite foods.
Nine-year-old Nok in a nearby village was raped at the
age of five by her next-door neighbor. The fact that he was arrested and has
since died in jail was of no consolation to her, as he had AIDS and passed
it on to her. She seemed alright until about two years ago, but then became
ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis and AIDS. She also died a few weeks
“In these small northern villages everybody knows
everyone else’s business,” says Plearn. “So when a child has AIDS, it
is common knowledge around the village, even though the child may not have
actually picked up AIDS from the parents. Some children actually manage to
escape infection if the AIDS virus is somehow not passed through the
If there was one consolation for Rattikarn and Nok, they
were surrounded by loving families and supported by the people of their
villages. They didn’t have to suffer the ordeal of being shunned by the
other villagers, and even their own families, which is the fate of many
people in the north who contact HIV/AIDS.
Others are not so lucky. At Wat Phrabatnamphu, an AIDS
hospice in Lopburi, many inmates have sought refuge there to escape the
stigma often attached to people unfortunate enough to have caught the virus,
in many cases through no fault of their own.
One of the saddest sights at the temple is the Bone Room
where large bags of bone fragments from cremated victims are piled one on
top of the other in the center of the room. Along one wall is row upon row
of boxes containing ashes that have been mailed to the deceased’s
relatives and have been returned because the relatives are frightened of
catching AIDS from the ashes. So the ashes are mixed with resin and used to
make garden ornaments.
Decorating the grounds of the hospice, they are bizarre
tributes to the deceased.
Another active anti AIDS crusader is Senator Meechai
Viravaidya who runs the restaurant “Cabbages & Condoms”. He achieved
world wide fame a few years ago when he toured the bars of Bangkok handing
out condoms to bar girls and their customers. Today his restaurant still
dispenses free condoms and all profits from the restaurant go to supporting
AIDS orphans. As he says, his diners have become donors.
“Now is a very important time for the government to
really move into public education”, he says. “We must teach the younger
groups, those in the early years of secondary school, and the young people
in the villages of the importance of prevention. It has to be an all out
program because more Asians will die from AIDS than all of the people that
have died in all of the wars in the history of Asia. We are going to lose
people who put investment into their life, into their education, into their
job training. In economic terms it’s horrendous, and I cannot imagine any
government not paying sufficient attention to this problem. So this is a
wake-up call, a last wake-up call for Asian leaders to really act more than
they’ve been doing. There’s no need to hide the fact that we have HIV,
every country has it now.”
Meechai is optimistic that the situation in the Asia
Pacific area will improve. Already many countries in the region have made
great progress in combating AIDS and he believes that, if governments exert
themselves a bit more, things can only get better. If this is so, then
hopefully Rattikarn and Nok will not have died in vain.
At the moment Plearn can only provide basic care for the
children. As she says, “I cannot do all this by myself. However, if I have
funds, I can find a place for them to live, a house of hope where I can help
maintain their quality of life. I want to create an opportunity for them to
lead a normal life, just like other children. At the moment the House of
Hope exists in name only. If I could acquire a loving, caring environment
for them to live in, much of their suffering would be eased.”
Plearn has a deep commitment to the community. She was
born there and has lived and worked there all her life. During the financial
crisis of 1997, an enormous strain was put on the hospital, stretching their
limited resources to near breaking point. So she set up a small clinic at
her home to lighten the hospital’s work load and at the same time started
raising money to buy powdered milk to feed the babies of AIDS affected
When her efforts were publicized in a national English
language daily, readers responded by donating 300,000 baht. Plearn hopes
that they will open their hearts again so that the House of Hope can become
Plearn can be contacted at: 516 Moo 1,Tambon Muangkam,
Phan District, Chiang Rai Province 15720. Phone: 053 721 941 and 01 386
8802. or Email: [email protected] com