AIDS hospice at Thai Buddhist temple adds free clinic for life-extending care

AP, Sept 1, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand -- A Buddhist temple in central Thailand that serves as a refuge for people dying of AIDS opened a free clinic Friday to dispense anti-retroviral drugs that slow the advance of the disease, the project's organizers said.

Since 1992, thousands of Thais in the final stages of AIDS have travelled to Wat Phrabatnampo in Lopburi, 110 kilometres north of Bangkok, to live out their last days.

The new project - the Wat Phrabatnampo-Centre of Hope - will provide support and treatment to relatively healthy people with AIDS, according to a statement by the temple's Dramaraksa Foundation, the Lopburi provincial government and the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Anti-retroviral drugs that can inhibit the disease and keep patients alive will be part of the free treatment, the organizers' statement said.

At the end of 2005, between 330,000 and 920,000 of Thailand's 65 million population were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the latest available figures from the United Nations.

"The number of HIV patients has continued to rise and increase rapidly, and many people are in need of ARV (anti-retroviral) medicines and better treatment and care services," Dr. Wichai Thaitaworn, director of the Dramaraksa Foundation, was quoted saying. "We therefore must expand our services for HIV/AIDS patients and serve their needs more effectively."

A Thai government health scheme provides virtually free anti-retroviral drugs for most people with AIDS, but the Centre of Hope project will also help cover the cost of other medicines, Wichai said in an interview. The centre is expected to have one doctor, one nurse and one pharmacist, he said.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, praised Thailand as a leader in the worldwide fight against AIDS, and said he hoped the Lopburi project - the foundation's first in Thailand - would be the first of many.

"It is my heartfelt wish that in addition to providing quality ART and care services, these centres also contribute to a greater understanding of HIV/AIDS and help reduce the stigma that many of those living with the disease have encountered," he was quoted saying.

AHF describes itself as the largest HIV/AIDS healthcare and prevention and education provider in the United States, operating more than 40 free AIDS treatment clinics in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia.

On the Net:

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    * AIDS Healthcare Foundation: