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HIV Patients in Asia Still Face Discrimination


Despite public awareness campaigns, people with HIV-AIDS in Asia say they still face social stigma and discrimination. Nearly 5 million people in the region have been infected by the virus.

In Thailand, a Buddhist temple in Lopburi province has become a refuge for HIV/AIDS patients.

This man's family refused to care for him when he contracted AIDS from drug use.

"I am happy here," he said. "But when I was at home, they just push the rice plate to me. I couldn't eat what I wanted to eat."

The bodies of those who die are cremated according to Buddhist practice. But some families refused to claim the ashes of their relatives, so they pile up here.

"I understand that our people are afraid of infection, afraid of the patient," said Abott Alongkot Dikkapanyo.

Alongkot Dikkapanyo is the abbot of this temple.

"But our people have mercy, our people like to give some money, some food, some clothes some medicine," he said. "But nobody came to our temple because they are afraid of infection."

Even after decades of education campaigns in Asia, many HIV patients are still shunned.

Jimmy Lo is a social worker at the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation.

"They have always been labeled as homosexuals, or that they are sex workers or that they are using drugs," he said.

Dr. Praphan Phanuphak treated some of the first HIV cases in Thailand in the 1980s.

"Disclosure of one's HIV status to the other people is somewhat difficult problem for HIV-infected persons," said Dr. Phanuphak. "Should he tell his wife, should he tell his parents, should he tell his child for example?"

Being HIV positive can jeopardize a person's job.

"Vincent" learned he was HIV positive in South Korea in 2005.

"At that time in Korea you have to have an anonymous test if you are a foreigner living in Korea," he said. "At that time if you found to be HIV positive, you would be deported."

Breakthroughs in HIV treatment allow patients to live longer, with no apparent symptoms. But the lack of anti-discrimination laws can make life harder.

"Some [Thai] lawmakers, they still think that we have to force everyone to get tested for HIV," said Dr. Phanuphak. "Anyone who is positive should be avoided banned from working, for example, working as a government lawyer, from being a monk, for example. These kind of lawmakers or politicians need to be educated."

Thailand has contained its HIV epidemic, and the government funds treatment.

"Many people think that HIV is no longer a problem in Thailand since we have been blessed by international organizations that Thailand has been so successful in curbing down the epidemic," said Praphan Phanuphak. "So the interest, the policy commitment is much lower now."

Wavering political will prompted the United Nations AIDS agency to press governments to address the problem of discrimination. Steve Kraus of UNAIDS Asia-Pacific says many nations have pledged to eliminate it, but have not put promises into action.

"What we are encouraging all governments to do in these region and throughout the entire world is to review their laws and regulations and to say these do not match up to good public policy, cost effectiveness and human rights approach," said Kraus.

Until discrimination ends, monks here can only hope for the day when these glass cabinets will finally be empty.

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