At a recent Rotary
meeting the very inspiring Dr. Prakong Vithayasai from Support the Children
Foundation who talked about the beginnings of AIDS in Thailand, how it has
changed, and attitudes. She started the first program in Chiang Mai to take
in HIV infected children at a time when no orphanage would take them and
there was no treatment for those affected. The heartbreaking stories of
children dying quickly and with no real personal care in hospitals was a
good reminder of how far we have all come.
I remember when it first came to Thailand there were
jokes and a lot of misinformation, one older woman I knew thought you could
get it sharing a glass of water. However, I lived in a small community and
once people in the community started getting ill and dying, the jokes
stopped and a deeper understanding became more widespread.
Perhaps it is because I lived in a small village where
everyone knew everyone else (and everyone knew everyone else’s business I
should add) that her stories of children being abandoned to die in hospital
shocked me. One of my neighbors was struck down by AIDS and within a year or
two, so was his wife, leaving two small girls parentless. Their father’s
brother immediately took them in and raised them as his own. There was no
notion of stigma, just family.
I guess in a big city this closeness tends to disappear,
one of the pitfalls of anonymous city living, I guess.
Thailand instituted a highly effective education program
that saw new infection rates drop drastically and in fact, became a model
for the rest of the world. However, Dr. Prakong pointed out, that model has
been abandoned and rates of infection are rising again, in large part due to
a lack of real sex education for teens. Teens in Thailand are sexually
active, as is clear from the recent report of rising teen pregnancies, and
it is time that the Thai government pulled itself out of the 1950s and into
21st century and accepted that
fact. Ses education at the Matthayom 1 or 2 level is key. And not just sex
education in regards to pregnancy but also STDs such as herpes, HIV, and
others. Young Thai people seem woefully uninformed in regards to these
problems, with many having the notion that it can’t happen to them because
they are young.
As Dr. Prakong pointed out, certainly they can develop a
vaccine but doesn’t make it much better sense to simply teach people how to
avoid it in the first place?.