THAILAND - “The day a child dies is the saddest day for everyone at the Camillian Centre at Rayong which cares for 31 children aged 4 to 17 most of them with discreet health conditions”

Saturday, 3 April 2004

Rayong (Fides Service) - “There would be much to say with regard to our relations with the Thai health system in which we are leaders in as far as care for children with AIDS is concerned. I am happy to say that our children have been baptised and many have made their First Holy Communion and Confirmation. They know how to pray and sing and they are proud to follow the faith proposed by ‘daddy’, Father Giovanni. All of them have lost their parents and for one reason or another they have been rejected by their families and entrusted to us by the social assistance institute” Rev. Giovanni Contarin, director of Rayong Centre told Fides something about his experience of working with children with AIDS.
“When I began in 1996 to take the first children with AIDS for care at our Centre I could not believe my eyes to see these little innocent ones get worse every day and die and that we were unable to help them.
They have AIDS, people said, and they are destined to die. We treat them with special love but without much hope, we must be resigned.
I don’t know how I managed to survive during the first year when ten of our children died. The day a baby dies is the saddest day for everyone at the Camillian Centre, even adults in the palliative care department found it hard to accept the death of a child and some would have even offered to take the child’s place. The funeral of a child, I recall the last three, Sonia, Patricia e Nat, is both sad and joyful because we celebrate the life of a new angel .
In 1996 I had no computer or access to the Internet…having been in Thailand for 11 years I had not come into contact with the new antiretroviral treatment which was having excellent results in America and Europe. One day I met a retired medical doctor from Switzerland who had settled a few kilometres from the Camillian Centre …it was as if the heavens had opened! While visiting the centre he offered to treat Oon a lovely 10 year old girl who followed me everywhere seeking safety in my arms and like many children she was terminally ill. Oon already had mouth infections, loss of hair, skin infections and breathing difficulties. We had already made an appointment to amputate a little finger as soon as gangrene started…her arms and legs were as thin as toothpicks. Alan, as the doctor was called, said “Father I would like Oon to grow up and to have a family like me, with a husband and children”.
Surprised and amazed I put myself in his hands. He told me of his doctor friend in Switzerland head of a department for infectious diseases in the canton Hospital of Geneva…. We began to communicate via fax…and in the meantime we started triple antiretroviral therapy, with a proteases inhibitor…new medicines not used in Europe…. Costing 1.000 US a month…that was the beginning of a story, which changed my life. This poor priest/nurse, became a pioneer in the field of medical treatment for children with AIDS in Asia.
Today we care for 31 children aged 4 to 17 most in discreet health conditions and from this year 21 of them attend outside schools. One child after another, one difficulty after another…always with the hope of seeing our children smile for love of life. To obtain antiretroviral drugs, I created an international network… I smuggled tonnes from India…and more recently I struggled for local production…all efforts that allowed thousands of children to receive this treatment which this year has become the pride of Thailand.
Not to mention the visits/excursions which I organised for the children to undergo blood tests in Bangkok…the schemes I organised to get them at a good price and studies I had to undertake so as not to stop when I heard: “there is nothing to do for children with AIDS ”.
Internet and collaboration of Doctors without Frontiers from Belgium, with offices and programmes in Bangkok, helped me. And obviously the environment we have succeeded in creating is the best for a child who has to learn to fight and understand the illness. How much effort to make Oon take pills large and small…but now she teaches the others to do it like a game…and she still remembers the little friends lost on the way. Oon is now 17 and she wants to live so much, she has changed therapy three times and has always had a viral charge of under 50 units. She goes to 2nd grade secondary school after passing exams of elementary classes, which she never attended.
My children bring vitality and love to the palliative treatment department and to the sadness which AIDS brings to the world, and this is the power which makes me a Eucharistic gift.”

(AP/GC) (3/4/2004 Agenzia Fides)