Reportage

‘Positive partnerships’ break down AIDS-discrimination in Thailand

30 March 2006

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Heralded by UNAIDS as an example of ‘best practice’, a project that offers small loans to enable people living with HIV set up businesses is helping break down stigma and discrimination in Thailand.

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Photo: UNAIDS/O.O'Hanlon

When married mother Nang Noi was told she had HIV three years ago, the fear of the disease and of the social rejection that might go with it was overwhelming. “I cried for five days straight. I did not think I could go on,” she said.

But through her own personal courage, the support of family and friends, and her involvement in a project that has given her the opportunity to set up two small businesses with her sister, Nang Noi has found ways to face her fears and counter AIDS-related stigma and discrimination.

Nang Noi set up two small businesses – selling dried seafood snacks and offering traditional Thai massage – using a micro-credit business loan through Thailand’s biggest non-governmental organization, the Population and Community Development Association (PDA).

Funded by the Pfizer Foundation in Thailand, the PDA project – entitled the ‘Positive Partnership Project’ - offers loans to partnerships of people living with HIV and a ‘’buddy’’(often a friend or family member who is not living with HIV) to set up small business ventures.

As part of the terms of the project, each ‘buddy’ undertakes to be a community ambassador for people living with HIV. ‘Buddies’ talk to friends and neighbors about the realities of HIV, trying to replace fear around HIV with facts.

‘There is a great deal of stigma against people living with HIV - even when it comes to bank loans. A widespread – and unfounded - notion existed in Thailand that people living with HIV wouldn’t be able to pay back loans,’’ said PDA founder, Senator Mechai Viravaidya.

“We felt this theory could and should be tested.”

“We realized that to really make a difference, we needed to tackle the need for people living with HIV to sustain their livelihoods and to break down stigma simultaneously,’’ he added.

Since the official launch of the project in January 2004, around 750 partnerships running micro businesses such as food-selling, motorcycle repair and craft-making have started up, supported by PDA centers in north, northeast and central Thailand. By October 2005, PPP loan repayment rates of 84% exceeded the rate of repayments within the general Thai banking system.

‘’Nobody is more motivated to succeed than the people who are receiving these loans,’’ said Senator Mechai.

Taking charge of their professional lives, people living with HIV involved in the project report feeling an increase in respect shown towards them by others, and a growth in their own feelings of self-respect.

And surveys of community members in PPP project areas indicated that ten months after the loans schemes began ‘anxiety levels’ around (or fear of) AIDS and stigma against people living with HIV had dropped from around 47% to around 14%.

‘’In the beginning our neighbors were afraid to buy Nang Noi’s food. But after I talked to them, and explained the realities of HIV they slowly began to change and now regularly buy from us,’ said Nang Noi’s sister and PPP partner Ngeun.

Patrick Brenny, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Thailand, underlined the vital role the project plays for Thailand and for UNAIDS work in the country: ‘’Two of the most critical challenges facing persons living with HIV infection in Thailand today are the lack of sustainable livelihoods and the challenges of stigma and discrimination, both of which are priority areas for UNAIDS’ work in Thailand,” he said.

‘”The PPP is an excellent example of addressing the longer-term economic well-being of people living with HIV and their families, while at the same time tackling the community-based stigma and discrimination which hampers the integration of HIV positive individuals and their families into those very same communities,” he explained.
 
“As more and more people living with HIV in Thailand gain access to antiretroviral therapy through the National Health Security Scheme, the importance of the PPP and similar initiatives will grow in order to address both the economic as well as the social- and community-support challenges facing persons living with HIV infection and their families here in Thailand,” said Brenny.

Related links
Population and Community Development Association

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