Thursday, 31 July 2008 07:34
In the mid and late 1980s, Thailand was one of the countries hit hardest by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By 1991, the country's prime minister announced that AIDS prevention and control were a national priority.

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."
Thursday, 31 July 2008 07:33
The cook found them at the side entrance just before dawn, when you could still make out the stars: Six-year-old Fon, her mum and our ferocious, slum-born, street-wise guard dog, all curled up asleep together. The "ferocious" guard dog, by the way, in spite of all training to the contrary, welcomes strangers; the more shabbily they dress, the more friendly he becomes.

Fon became our Christmas present, coming to stay with us for a while to share her wisdom and joy - her dance, her song, her innocence. And she led us as we followed the Magi and the Christmas star.

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