This week we have made a field trip to Chiangdao and Phrao with Gee, Wi and Arm from Rejoice.
Rejoice works predominantly with HIV-positive persons and those suffering from Aids in the North of Thailand. We have visited clinics and made home visits in order to distribute free medication to those followed by Rejoice.
Rejoice does not distribute anti-viral medication which is only available in hospitals. Rejoice offers treatment for side-effects of the anti-viral medication and accompanying sickness of Aids.
Before the field trip we have met Alan Wheeler of Rejoice UK in Chiang Mai who has told us a lot about HIV in Thailand. As Don Willcox and Saovanee Nilavongse have already told us, Rejoice has difficulties to obtain donations directly in Thailand. According to Alan, 90% of Rejoice’s funds come from abroad. Many Thai people prefer to donate to temples rather than to humanitarian organisations.
Chiang Mai was the epicentre of Aids in Thailand 15 years ago and even though the situation has improved, the region still struggles with the repercussions. Especially the rural population is affected by the virus.
As of today, the public Thai health system provides free medical care for persons suffering from Aids. Further, the HIV tests are paid for by the Thai health insurance which is available for all Thai persons which are registered. A good example of state measures is that HIV test are mandatory for pregnant women in order to prevent a possible transmission of the virus to the new born.
Even though Alan has qualified the governmental action as “good,” several problems persist and HIV and Aids remain a major issue in Thailand.
All people living in Thailand are not registered and thus have no access to free health care. Especially hill tribes, which speak different languages and often do not speak Thai, do not make the necessary procedures. Further, there are many migrant workers which come from neighbouring countries and which often are in Thailand without a work permit.
According to Alan, another problem is the transportation to the hospitals and clinics. Don has told us about the same problem. The most vulnerable often live far from medical care institutions. The transportation is relatively expensive for the rural population and takes a lot of time which often means one lost day of work.
Further, and this leads us to the third major problem, going to a hospital could attract the neighbours’ curiosity. HIV and Aids, just like handicaps, remain stigmatised in Thailand. Bad information of the transmission of HIV make that HIV-positive persons are socially rejected and isolated.
We have noticed that Gee has taken a lot of time to talk to the patients. Unfortunately, we do not yet understand Thai, but the discussions seemed very amicable. Gee explained that many persons suffering from Aids stop taking the anti-viral medication when they start to feel better. Even though the medication is free for most, many do not consider it necessary when the symptoms of the sickness disappear.
Our field trip with Gee has shown us that HIV and Aids remain a problem in Thailand in terms of prevention, treatment and information. Alan and Gee have told us much more about HIV and Aids in Thailand and about the persons suffering from it. If you have any questions you can contact us. You can also read Rejoice’s last report.
PS : On our way to Chiangdao and Phrao we stopped at a primary school in Chiangdao to distribute fruits to the children whose parents are mostly field workers. There is no direct link to Rejoice work on HIV and Aids, but it shows the diversity of its work. Here are some pictures: