Monks, Nurses, Ex-Prostitutes Work To Combat AIDS in Thailand

MAE CHAN, Thailand-From women in saunas, soaking in acrid herbal steam, to children watching a puppet show, a small farming district in Thailand is being slowly reformed by volunteers who are trying to stop the spread of AIDS.

Monks, students, ex-prostitutes, nurses, doctors, and patients have gathered together to support community events that educate people about the methods of preventing AIDS. They are promoting condom use, caring for patients in their homes, giving herbal medicines, spiritual guidance, and counseling for depression.

The small group gathered in 1991 at the Me Chan community hospital and began scouring the outlying villages, spreading their words of support and education about the disease. They created a web site that has been flooded with email from other areas of the world, asking for advice on how to bring more information to their communities.

While their educational puppet shows teach children prevention methods, and saunas using herbs grown by Monks help ease the pain of AIDS patients, the rates of AIDS in the northern province of Thailand continue to soar. There are 1.25 million people in the area that account for 1.9% of the country's population. However, they have more than 10% of the country's AIDS cases. There are an estimated 1 million people in Thailand who have been infected with AIDS.

The number could have been up to 80% higher if a condom education program wasn't started in 1990. Researchers estimate the infection rate is significantly decreased today because of the action taken 10 years ago.

While the combination of people in the group is rare, their goal and efforts are focused. Prevention is better than a cure. They are providing care for those who are ill and teaching others to be careful to prevent their futures from being ending prematurely as well.

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