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by Jeanne Hallacy
color, 50 min, 2002
PHIL JONES: Children singing the national anthem of Thailand -- it's how their school day begins. After the anthem, it's time for their prayers, led by the teachers.
TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: Bow once to the Buddha. The Buddha is great....
Thailand soon became one of the world's first success stories in the battle against the virus, reducing the number of transmissions from 140,000 in 1991 to 23,000 in 2003. Nonetheless, one in every 100 Thais is infected, and AIDS is still the country's leading cause of death.
The Mercy Centre is the first and largest free AIDS hospice in the Thai capital, Bangkok. It is located in the middle of the city's biggest slum, Klong Toey.
The Mercy Centre was established in 1993 by a Catholic priest, Father Joe. Initially, the project was received with disdain and fear by the slum-dwellers, says Usanee Janngeon, one of the centre's health managers.
"When we first began our patients weren't allowed to go outside. But now, they can walk out in the community, buy food and do whatever they want as long as they don't make trouble. The community accepts them. I'm not saying there's no discrimination, far from that. But at least the slum-dwellers have shown acceptance of HIV/AIDS patients."