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Saturday, 13 July, 2002, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Dying for Aids treatment in Thailand
Thai prostitutes
HIV has spread among Thai prostitutes and drug users
The BBC's Phil Mercer

It is 10 o'clock on a hot and humid morning on an industrial site halfway between Bangkok and the Thai beach resort of Pattaya.

A middle-aged woman is helped from a car.

She is probably 40 but looks nearer 70. Her skin appears shrink-wrapped across her face, her eyes are glazed and her feet unsteady.

She is one of the thousands of Thais crushed by the relentless advance of the Aids epidemic.


V-1 has made my life better - I now live with hope

Man infected with HIV

Like many others she has come seeking salvation at the Ban Ban Pakong clinic.

It dispenses V-1 Immunitor, an oral vaccine its makers claim has cured at least a dozen HIV-positive patients.

It has not been tested to international standards and the claims of its manufacturers have been widely dismissed.

'Conspiracy'

Its co-inventor Vic Jirathitikal told BBC News Online that there is a conspiracy to destroy V-1 to ensure Thailand remains under the control of foreign drug companies.

"Many of the media, the government and even the medical council are trying to discredit us," he said.

"The patients, they are not stupid.

"They know what is good for them so they come, you see, because they know they're getting better."

The clinic attracts hundreds of people every week.

Launch new window : Aids in the Far East
Click to see the Far East's growing epidemic

They wait in the sun for their turn to see one of the doctors.

Some are too ill to stand so slumped on the pavement, waiting for their dose of hope, despite V-1 being denounced by health officials in Thailand.

HIV sufferer Phanupong Khaisri
The disease has ravaged families across Thailand
HIV has brought misery to thousands of families across Thailand.

Just how many people are infected here is unclear.

Estimates put the number of Thais having HIV - the virus which can lead to Aids - at between 750,000 and 1.5 million.

Most infected people here have no access to drugs that have been successfully used in the West.

Promboon Panitchpakdi from the aid group CARE Thailand told the BBC: "Many people will do almost anything to try a drug in which they only have 10% faith because what other choices do they have?"

Made from blood

V-1 Immunitor is made from the blood of HIV-positive patients along with calcium and magnesium and costs each patient $20 a month.

One 53-year-old HIV-positive patient told BBC News Online the drug had done wonders for his health.

"V-1 has made my life better. I now live with hope," he said.


There is a lot of money to be made by evil people through this disease

Alex Renton, Oxfam

Other patients have startling claims to make.

Grace, a single mother from Tanzania, insisted her son had been cured of HIV after taking the V-1 pills for several months.

She urged the army of doubters to think again.

"They must believe, because it's not only my son who [has become] negative, there are more than 10 people who use V-1 for three years and they get negative too."

'Unwanted diversion'

Some welfare organisations here believe the controversy surrounding V-1 and other unlicensed vaccines is diverting attention from the urgent need for Thais to access clinically proven anti-retroviral drugs that have reduced Aids-related deaths in Western countries.

Alex Renton from the Bangkok office of the Oxfam aid agency believes Thailand is becoming a dumping ground for other treatments that have been tested unsuccessfully elsewhere.

"We are seeing some international companies using Thai HIV-positive people as guinea pigs to try out drugs that in some cases have already failed their trials in Europe and the United States," he said.

"There is a lot of money to be made by evil people through this disease."

See also:

03 Jul 02 | Health
15 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
21 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
05 Jun 01 | Health
09 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
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