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MAIL OPINION  By Shana Kongmun

 

HIV/AIDS is on the rise in Thailand

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?.
 


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HIV/AIDS is on the rise in Thailand