Helping AIDS children survive

Although the smallest among the four Nordic Chambers in Thailand, the Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce has for many years been able to donate several million Baht to a home in Chiang Mai for children with HIV. None of the other Chambers have a similar charity cause.
In a tremendous show of support, corporate as well as individual members of the Chamber have year after year donated cash and goods to help husband-and-wife team Dr Prakong and Dr Vicharn Vithayasai, founders of the Support Children Foundation in Chiang Mai, in their struggle. This year, the Chamber will raise its yearly donation at a Golf Tournament followed by a Banquet on November 8, 2002.
When Dr Prakong and Dr Vicharn Vithayasai established their Support the Children Foundation, they were treating some 2,000 adults with HIV/Aids at Maharaj Hospital and the children’s ward of the hospital was packed with the babies of Aids-infected mothers. The Department of Public Welfare did not know how to cope and the mortality rate among the children was high.
“We wanted to show society that with proper love and care, the children could have a good life,” Dr. Prakong says.
Their dream was reported in the New York Times and a Swiss millionaire answered the call. Through the Association Francois-Xavier Bagnoud, four homes were prepared in different housing areas in Chiang Mai. At this point, Bjørn Granerød, Managing Director of the Norwegian company Jotun (Thailand) Co., Ltd., also heard of the project and immediately donated the paint for the four homes.
After the economic crisis hit in 1997, raising the necessary funds became tougher. This was when more members of the Thai-Norwegian Chamber scrambled to offer their support. The foundation spends around 2.7 million baht a year on anti-retroviral drugs. Each sheltered home costs 30,000 baht a month to run.
The first five years were tough, Dr. Vicharn recalls.
“We had 26 deaths. Another 24 children were returned to the care of the Social Welfare Department as they were found to be HIV-free. At the beginning, we were aiming to give the children the best time possible during their short lives. But the death rates prompted us to try harder,” he says.
Today, with improved medicines available, the situation is very different.
“The children take between two and four kinds of medicine each day. We’ve had no deaths in the past five years,” Dr Prakong says.
All the children also go to school, a situation which didn’t come about without some struggles. In the early days, some schools refused to take them in while other schools demanded that Prakong removed the children once it was discovered that they had Aids.
Having set up the homes, the two doctors have now moved up-stream and established an outreach project to stop Aids-infected children from being abandoned in the first place. This project encourages families to keep their children by providing support such as powdered milk, food and transportation fees for medical check-ups. It also includes an income-generating scheme for HIV-infected families to survive on their own if they are laid off from their jobs.
Today, Dr. Prakong pins her long-term hopes on the success of this outreach project.
“Life is uncertain. I’m 57 now. If I die, I would like the foundation to have enough funds to go on. I’d like to see the children adopted into families that can afford to take care of them. If a local family adopts our children, the foundation can help support them with the needed medicines.”
“Eventually, we could sell the houses and use the money to run the outreach project. Right now, we have 200 children on our waiting list.”

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