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Wednesday, January 6, 1999 Published at 04:02 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Churches tackle Thailand's Aids problem

In many families only the very old and very young have survived

The spread of Aids in Thailand has prompted the country's two main religious communities to work together for the first time.

Religious Affairs Correspondent Emily Buchanan: "Thailand has 80,000 Aids orphans"
Thailand has the highest level of infection with the HIV virus in Asia.

Aids has left Thailand with around 80,000 orphans. In many families, only the old and young have survived.

Prostitution rife

[ image: Thousands of families have lost relatives]
Thousands of families have lost relatives
Local communities say HIV has spread rapidly because many young men visit prostitutes frequently and then pass on the infection to their wives.

For more than 100 years, Christian missionaries were seen as a threat to Buddhism in Thailand, but Aids has joined the two religions.

Christians and Buddhists are co-operating on several projects to save communities.

Moral influence

Temples are acting as health clinics where medication and sex education is provided.

Catholic nuns are monitoring the numbers of Aids-infected people with help from village elders.

[ image: Buddhists once felt threatened by Christianity]
Buddhists once felt threatened by Christianity
Buddhist monks are even exerting their moral influence over boys by attracting them to the temple with classes in Thai boxing.

Father Cyril Niphot, from the Diocese of Chiang Mai, believes that by helping Buddhist communities rediscover their moral values, change will come.

"When you lose your value system the result is the death," he said.

"You have to change your perspective and value system, and go back to the traditional belief."

The results of this religious partnership are that brothels are closing and the pace of HIV infection is slowing down.

In one of the worst infected areas in the north of the country, Muang Phayayo, no new HIV infections have been recorded for the last six months.

Such is the success, that campaigning against HIV using the religious network could become an example for the rest of Asia.

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