HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee receives warm welcome during visit to Chiang Mai

Veterinary Public Health gets boost

Finally, the Pandas arrive

Orphans of AIDS

Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee receives warm welcome during visit to Chiang Mai

Phitsanu Thepthong

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Thailand this past week, and was “re-introduced” to the Kingdom through a visit to Chiang Mai.

PM Vajpayee was here as a guest of Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and to participate in high-level talks between India and Thailand after participating in the ASEAN summit, which took place on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at Chiang Mai International Airport.

A Thai woman, Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra during the welcoming ceremony organized by Chiang Mai provincial authorities at Chiang Mai International Airport.

Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee greets a Thai woman, who in turn presents him with a bowl of flowers to welcome the Indian VIP.

Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat (left) and his provincial authorities were on hand to welcome the India PM delegation.

Northern dancers perform a fingernail dace in honor of the Indian PM’s visit.

Grace and beauty, a wonderful introduction to Thailand for the Indian prime minister.

The ancient Thai fingernail dance, used for centuries to welcome foreign dignitaries, is still as stunning today as it has ever been.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (left), deputy PM Korn Dabbaransri, and Foreign Affairs Minister Surakiart Sathierathai were on hand to welcome the visiting India PM.

Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee disembarks at Chiang Mai International Airport under tight security.

Despite the heat, today’s generation of Thai dancers performed spectacularly.

Veterinary Public Health gets boost

Joint program for undergraduates with Germany

Text by Marion Vogt
Photos by Michael Vogt

The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University (FVM/CMU) announced their new Masters degree in veterinary public health as a joint degree program between the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany and the Chiang Mai University in Thailand. It is partly funded by the European Union (EU) with the concept that it will help improve food safety throughout Southeast Asia.

Prof. Dr. Karl-Hans Zessin, the course director spoke enthusiastically about the Masters degree program.

Speaking at the ceremony to mark the inauguration of the new regional center was Erik Habers, councilor of the Delegation of the European Commission. He said, “The issue of food safety has never been more important. Graduates of this program will be in the front line of efforts to promote veterinary public health in the region and will provide the expertise necessary to ensure international standards are met.”

The EU has provided 1.2 million baht, 75% of the cost of developing and setting up the program through its Asia-Link initiative, designed to promote regional and multilateral networking between higher education institutions in EU member states and South Asia, South East Asia and China.

H.E. Sudarat Keyuraphan, the Minister of Public Health opened the first joint Masters course in Veterinary Public Health.

Asst. Prof. Nipon Tuwanon, president of CMU welcomed the guests, VIP’s, and expressed how happy he felt that all these months of preparation have paid off and the day had come to open a program which will be highly beneficial for the region and the whole country.

Honorary Consul Hagen Dirksen was present on behalf of German Ambassador Andreas von Stechow. He said, “I feel much honored to participate in today’s grand opening ceremony of the Regional Center for Veterinary Public Health and the launching of the first joint Masters Degree Course in Veterinary Public Health from Chiang Mai University and the Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany. Thai-German Cooperation in the field of agriculture and livestock is dating back to the 60s. In fact, it was German President Heinrich Luebke who proposed during an official state visit to Northern Thailand (in 1965), support for the Royal Thai Government in setting up the Thai-German Dairy Farm in Chiang Mai. However, this dairy farm, which received German Government assistance until 1977, laid the foundation for wide-ranging Thai-German cooperation in the fields of agriculture and livestock, including veterinary science and rural development in general.”

He continued, “German technical cooperation today focuses primarily on pollution control in urban and industrial areas, small and medium size enterprises (SME’s) and technology transfer. Being an agronomist and agricultural economist myself, I strongly believe that the rural sector in conjunction with the food industry is and remains the backbone of Thailand’s and its neighboring countries’ economy”.

The vice dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Prof. Michael Schmidt, added that he hopes that after the first two years when evaluations will be done, everybody will be as proud as today.

Prof. Dr. Karl-Hans Zessin, the course director spoke on globalization, the quickly changing times and that the spectrum of hazards affecting both animals and humans are far from being controlled. He said, “We from the academic side have to expand from our old clients, the farmers, and forge new alliances and partnerships with other stakeholders along the food chains, ranging from processors to consumers. It is this new area of methods and arrangements that the Regional Center for Veterinary Public Health is really about.”

He reported with great satisfaction that they welcomed 16 participants from six countries who are now facing a demanding but primarily exciting course program, here in Chiang Mai, in Berlin and Vienna, and for the Masters thesis, in neighboring countries of Thailand.

H.E. Sudarat Keyuraphan, the minister of public health thanked everyone for their support during the ‘Thailand Food Safety Year 2003’. She said that the cooperation and the technical support which is given to everybody will not only improve farm products and manufactured foods but also ensure safe food for all Thai citizens.

Finally, the Pandas arrive

Almost too much to bear!

Phitsanu Thepthong and Phisut Itsaracheewawat

The two giant pandas from China arrived on October 12 in a special THAI airplane with the special flight called “Love Panda Love Chiang Mai”. The pair, Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui arrived safely as the Thai-China friendship ambassadors from China’s Sichuan province following Thailand’s and the Chinese government’s cooperation.

Guests of honor accompanied the furry duo on the ten hour trip from their old residence in Sichuan to their new residence at Chiang Mai Zoo. Chiang Mai people packed the airport to welcome the new ambassadors, which were presented by the Chinese authorities to Thailand, making Thailand the only the 6th, and last, country in the world to receive the giant pandas from China.

The 2-year-old female and 3-year-old male, re-named Kham Ai and Kham Oey by Chiang Mai children, arrived on a good day, said the Chiang Mai governor.

Prapat Panyachartrak, the minister of Natural Resources and Environment, presided over the welcoming ceremony, which was followed by open air performances with Chinese lions and dragon dances to make the pandas feel at home.

Others present to welcome the ambassadors included Chiang Mai MP Yaowapha Wongsawas, Montri Nawigphol, chairman of the Zoological Park Organization committee, Gen Lertrat Rattawanitch, and Kanok Aphiradee, THAI president.

After arrival the pandas were brought by air-conditioned truck through the city’s main roads leading to Chiang Mai Zoo, their new residence, on which the Thai government spent 40-million baht. Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui’s residence must be kept below 17 degrees Celsius, and the two bears will be given one month to acclimatize before they will be shown to the public.

It was truly “panda-mania” at Chiang Mai International Airport, as this “Love Panda” banner attests.

A panda mascot and dragon dancers wait to perform before the arrival of two giant pandas from China at Chiang Mai international airport Sunday, Oct. 12. Thai government has spent 40-million baht ($US 1 million) to adjust part of the environment including an air-conditioned room and forest-like recreational areas in the zoo, where the two pandas named “Chuang Chuang”, a three-year-old male, and “Lin Hui” a two-year-old female are kept. The pandas, from Cheng Du City in China, will act as “animal ambassadors,” reflecting the close relationship between China and Thailand. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

The two cages containing the pandas on board THAI descend to the ground at Chiang Mai International Airport.

One of the pandas peers out at the crowd from inside its cage.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Prapat Panyachartrak (center in dark red shirt) presided over the welcoming ceremony.

A Chinese dragon dance performance was held as part of the ceremony.

Some of the crowd dressed up in Chinese dresses to welcome the new bears.

An employee gives a carrot to Lin Hui shortly after the furry couple’s arrival at Chiang Mai Zoo Sunday, Oct. 12. (Photo by Chavanond Petcharat, courtesy of Chiang Mai Zoo)

Lin Hui eats a carrot inside its new home at Chiang Mai Zoo. (Photo by Chavanond Petcharat, courtesy of Chiang Mai Zoo)

Panda mascots parade through the welcoming party at the airport.

The children truly enjoyed hanging out with the panda mascots.

Tourist police were on alert to provide safety and facilities.

Orphans of AIDS

by Steve Rhodes

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 from HIV/AIDS.

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.

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.

Just 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 ago.

“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 placenta.”

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 mothers.

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 a reality.

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