A founding member and current advisor of our HIV/AIDS homecare and outreach teams, Khun Apiwat Gwangkaew was recently named President of the national Thai Network + (People Living with AIDS).
The Thai Network + is a nationwide organization comprising hundreds of local and regional groups advocating for the rights of PLWA. The Network creates national platforms, based on the voices of those living with AIDS, on issues ranging from national drug licensing and universal drug access to grassroots education and outreach. Apiwat first came to Mercy as a hospice patient and has a remarkable story to tell. In his own words:
"When I was a child, my parents could not take care of me. I was placed with a foster family. The foster family did love me but I missed the warmth that comes from my own family.
"As a teenager, I was mischievous but never got into serious trouble. I had never been taught about AIDS and did not know what it was. When I got older, I started a small business selling clothes. This was a happy time in my life. My business was successful and I was earning some money.
"I never would have guessed that HIV/AIDS would enter my life. I never thought that I was in a high-risk group. To me, sex was about love and trust, and not disease, so I didn’t think to use protection. It was inconceivable that I could get sick from the person I loved. I was aware of the AIDS campaign but ignored it because I thought that the disease would never touch my life.
"One day, I became sick with an opportunistic disease that left me unconscious and unable to care for myself. I was treated at one of the hospitals in Bangkok. The treatment stabilized my condition but the hospital discovered that I was sick with a late stage of AIDS and told my family. At this time, treatment was very expensive. My cousin was told that there was not much that could be done, but gave me the contact number of a social worker at the Mercy Centre. I was very depressed and had given up on life. I was waiting to die. The one thing that made me feel proud was that my foster family never left my side, and instead gave me encouragement throughout the two years I spent at the hospital.
"I went to the Mercy Centre because I was suffering from the last stage of the AIDS virus. I was blind. I had wounds all over my body, my arms and legs were weak, and I could not do much on my own. My family wanted to take good care of me. They took me to Mercy and it didn’t cost them any money. I hoped to die peacefully there.
"The health team helped me recover from shock. After my heart stopped two times, I was send to Bumrasnaradulr Institute because they had expert doctors. Luckily for me, I was seen immediately. The doctor there discovered that I was blind because of a virus and I was treated for the virus immediately. Because of this, I am able to see today and was not permanently blinded. I continued treatment for the opportunistic disease until I recovered and came back to live normally in society. I was able to see with my eyes and also touch with my heart after my recovery. I am getting healthier. I feel so much love coming from my family. The staffs at Mercy never discriminate against me even though they met me when I had wounds all over my body. This has taught me something about family. Mercy is not just a hospice for people living with HIV/AIDS. For me, Mercy is a part of my family, and has taught me to discover my own value and how to help take care of myself. Each day I learn more about HIV/AIDS in order to help other sick people to live happily in society.
"I hope to bring my own knowledge and experiences to other sick people in order to improve their quality of life so that they can live equally in society. Today, I am the President of the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+). I would like to emphasize the importance of working together to change people’s point of view and their understanding of AIDS. I want to teach people that AIDS patients can be healed. You will not die from AIDS if you are treated and you learn how to take care of yourself. I hope that someday I will be seen as an equal to other healthy people without having to mention my disease or defend the value of my life."
Please download our booklet "Positive Voices from Thailand" or click to read their individual stories: You may download our booklet here.