Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Aids activists cry foul amid persistent intolerance

Dec 01. 2015
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By Chularat Saengpassa
The Natio

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Children living with HIV finding it difficult to gain acceptance in Thai society
EVERY SEMESTER, Aids activists lament the difficulties children living with HIV encounter when they try to find schools that will accept them – a situation they say clearly reflects the stigmatisation that persists in Thai society. 
One of the most heart wrenching of these stories was the recent case of an eight-year-old boy who had been rejected by two schools on the grounds that he is living with HIV.
“When we heard about his case, we brought a doctor from the Thai Red Cross Society to a third school in a bid to persuade them to enrol the boy,” said Sunthraporn Ketkaew, manager of the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/Aids (TNP+). 
She said that despite a lot of persuasion in the course of a long meeting, most of the teachers had reservations about enrolling the boy. 
“But before we lost hope, one teacher spoke up firmly and said he would take care of the boy himself. Thanks to that teacher, the boy will have the same opportunity to study as the other children,” Sunthraporn said. 
Thai law in fact prohibits such discrimination and all Thai children are entitled to the right to access educational services. 
Sunthraporn said TNP+ has never taken anyone to court because the network believes it is better to campaign and communicate for better understanding.
In addition to understanding that HIV cannot be spread from one person to another simply by playing together and engaging in general physical contact, she said, the teachers should understand that the health status of children living with HIV should remain confidential. 
“Some teachers won’t keep it a secret even after we make the request,” Sunthraporn said.
She said one or more of the 10 teachers at the third school where they tried to enrol the eight-year-old boy had apparently leaked his health status. 
“We later found out that many people learned of his health status,” she said. 
It is estimated that thousands of Thai children are living with HIV.
“In Nakhon Phanom province, a four-year-old boy can’t attend a pre-school centre in his hometown because locals know his parents are living with HIV,” Sunthraporn said. 
When the centre refused to accept the boy, he said, non-governmental organisations pushed hard for the admission. 
“The centre finally agreed to take in the boy. But after two days, the other children stopped attending the centre. When the boy walked into the centre and found no one there, he sensed something was wrong. He cried and refused to return to the centre again,” she added. 
‘Attitude adjustment necessary’
She said that although activists had tried to enrol this young boy at other centres, none of them would welcome him. 
“They suggested that the parents should take care of their son at home. So, that’s what this boy has to live with. He cannot receive an education during his pre-school years,” Sunthraporn said.
She insisted that educational institutes should adjust their attitudes towards HIV and those who live with HIV-positive family members. 
“If we don’t give them a place to stand, they won’t be able to live in society,” she said. “If every school says HIV-positive children should enrol somewhere else, where exactly is that somewhere else? Does it really exist?” 
Apiwat Kwangkeaw, chairman of TNP+, said the problem affected not just the infected children but also the uninfected who had to live with their HIV-positive parents. 
Apiwat said children who struggle with the stigma today are also prone to face discrimination in their careers later in life if the public continues to be ignorant about HIV/Aids.
“The other day, a 22-year-old man called me to ask for advice. He said his prospective employer asked him to undergo a blood test before his placement. 
“He is HIV-positive. So, he felt he would not get the job even if he complied with the blood-test requirement. He has decided not to undergo the blood test,” Apiwat said.
Such cases are just the tip of the iceberg, he said. Many more people who live with HIV have been trying to endure the painful stigmatisation in silence. 
 This is the second in a three-part series to mark World Aids Day. The next part is about patients' responsibility in controlling the spread of the disease.

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