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AIDS hospice at
Thai Buddhist temple adds free clinic

AIDS hospice at
Thai Buddhist temple adds free clinic

A Buddhist temple in central Thailand that serves as a refuge for people dying of AIDS opened a free clinic Friday to dispense antiretroviral drugs that slow the advance of the disease, the project's organizers said.

Since 1992, thousands of Thais in the final stages of AIDS have traveled to Wat Phrabatnampo in Lopburi, 70 miles north of Bangkok, to live out their last days.

The new project, the Wat Phrabatnampo-Center of Hope, will provide support and treatment to relatively healthy people with AIDS, according to a statement by the temple's Dramaraksa Foundation, the Lopburi provincial government, and the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Antiretroviral drugs that can inhibit the disease and keep patients alive will be part of the free treatment, the organizers' statement said.

At the end of 2005, between 330,000 and 920,000 of Thailand's 65 million people were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the latest available figures from the United Nations.

''The number of HIV patients has continued to rise and increase rapidly, and many people are in need of [antiretroviral] medicines and better treatment and care services,'' Dr. Wichai Thaitaworn, director of the Dramaraksa Foundation, was quoted saying. ''We therefore must expand our services for HIV/AIDS patients and serve their needs more effectively.''

A Thai government health program provides virtually free antiretroviral drugs for most people with AIDS, but the Center of Hope project will also help cover the cost of other medicines, Wichai told the Associated Press. The center is expected to have one doctor, one nurse, and one pharmacist, he said.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, praised Thailand as a leader in the worldwide fight against AIDS, and said he hoped the Lopburi project, the foundation's first in Thailand, would be followed by many more.

''It is my heartfelt wish that in addition to providing quality [antiretroviral treatment] and care services, these centers also contribute to a greater understanding of HIV/AIDS and help reduce the stigma that many of those living with the disease have encountered,'' he was quoted saying.

AHF describes itself as the largest HIV/AIDS health care and prevention and education provider in the United States, operating more than 40 free AIDS treatment clinics in the U.S., Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. (AP)

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