The Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Center

Historical Background
The Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Center officially began operating in December 1989. Since 1985, people with HIV/AIDS have been receiving treatment and care from Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, an organ affiliated with the Thai Red Cross. Since 1987, the Thai Red Cross has been educating the public about the disease and conducting research on it.

In 1991, the World Health Organization designated 1st December as the Thai Red Cross's annual AIDS campaign day. To comply with WHO's policy on AIDS, the Thai Red Cross founded the Anonymous Clinic, which became the first of its kind to be exempt from revealing the names of patients with HIV to the government. Without asking for real identities and addresses, the clinic provides such services as blood checking and advising on diseases transmitted through blood and sexual intercourse like AIDS, syphilis, and hepatitis B.

AIDS started to spread into Thailand in 1984. As of 31 July 2000, a total of 149,266 people were reported to suffer from full-blown AIDS. It was estimated, however, that approximately 1 million people or 1 out of 60 people nationwide were infected with HIV. When considering only the population between 20-40 years of age, the ratio was 1 out of 40. AIDS was the number one cause of death in several major provinces surpassing heart disease, cancer and accidents. Men account for two thirds of all AIDS deaths because the illness spread among men before it infected women. Since most of them died in their prime or between 25 and 40 years of age, it was considered a great economic loss to their families as well as the country.

Now, neither a cure for or vaccine against AIDS has been discovered. The best vaccine therefore is people's awareness of self-protection. Thailand has been recognized by many countries for its successful campaign against the disease over the past 5-6 years. The number of people with HIV in Thailand has reduced dramatically from an annual average of 100,000-150,000 to 60,000-80,000.

Since most HIV-infected children were born to mothers with HIV, the number of children with AIDS is tied to the rate of AIDS infection in pregnant women. At present, a total of 1 million Thai women give birth annually. Of this figure, 2 percent or 20,000 are AIDS-infected. 6,000 or one third of the children who are born to these mothers are likely to be infected, becoming a healthcare burden to their family, society and the country.

In 1993, a medical breakthrough came out of a study on AIDS known as ACTG 076. An anti-AIDS medicine called AZT was found to reduce the rate of AIDS transmission from mothers to infants. This research finding was published worldwide in early 1994, and later that year, public health agencies in the United States publicly endorsed the use of the medicine as part of their conventional treatment for all pregnant women. Other countries like China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil have followed suit. The governments in these countries dispense AZT free of charge to pregnant women who need the medicine but can't afford it.

In late 1995, the Thai Red Cross Society initiated a fund-raising project called "Help to reduce AIDS transmission from mothers to newborns" to mark the auspicious occasion of His Majesty's 50th anniversary on the throne. The project is under the royal patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Soamsawali and is sponsored by the Ministry of Public Health. Its slogan is "A thousand baht from you can save a child from AIDS." This amount can buy enough AZT for a mother-to-be and her newborn. So far, the project has provided the medicine to over 3000 pregnant women. The results of blood testing from newborn babies have corroborated the finding of the ACTG 076 research that the medicine can help reduce the rate of AIDS transmission from mothers to babies. The AZT project has also made its country very proud; it was referred to by 3 panelists at the International Conference held in D.C. from 3-6 September 1997 as a model project for any joint cooperation between a private organization, the royal family and the government in solving problems where government aid has not yet reached.

At the 4th International Congress on AIDS and the Pacific in the Philippines from 25-29 December 1997, Dr. Peter Piot, UNAIDS' Director praised Her Royal Highness Princess Saomsawali in his keynote speech for her role as the project's royal patron.

According to the project's survey, there are pregnant women infected with AIDS who need AZT, there are doctors who need the medicine to prevent AIDS transmission from mothers to children, and there exist hospitals that are readily equipped for the project and have succeeded in bringing down the transmission rate.

Thanks to the free-AZT project, the public has become more aware that AIDS infection has a serious impact on the family institution, and this has in turn encouraged more and more people to have their blood tested before marrying or starting a family.

Every year on 1st December, the Thai Red Cross Society organizes a special event to mark World AIDS Day. Its first-year celebration in 1991, known as "Tien Song Jai", was co-organized by the Thai Red Cross's Wednesday Friends Club, whose members are people with HIV. The Club's objective is to create good understanding between people with HIV and the society as a whole and to make the latter realize that it is possible for HIV-infected people to live a healthy life, and to be useful to their families and communities, that they are not a health threat, and that their moral support can encourage people with HIV to fight against the disease and to go on with their lives.     

Responsibilities
1.   Co-ordinating with the government in campaigning against AIDS and alleviating its impact.์

* Setting up projects to provide care for HIV-infected patients both at home and in many provincial communities.
* The Anonymous Clinic provides services to people who need counseling, information and blood testing without asking them for their real identities or addresses. The clinic will, instead, designate them code numbers.
* Setting up projects to campaign against AIDS in slum communities

2.   Raising funds to support the Center's activities such as :

* The joint-cooperation project with the Ministry of Public Health to buy AZT drugs for infected mothers.
* The project to subsidize milk and educational fees for children born of mothers on the AZT-project list.
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3.   Supporting joint activities aimed at helping AIDS -infected people, such as Wednesday's Friends Club, by giving them advice and facilitating contacts with similar networks locally and abroad.     
4.   Responsible for office work
5.   HIV-NAT
6.   Conducting social research