The Mercy Centre in Bangkok, Thailand
A few years ago I was asked to travel to Thailand with my good friend and journalist Ros Wynn Jones, to produce a series of pictures for a feature story on the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was raging through the country at that time. It was to be a multilayered approach to this subject, from the victims perspective, the role of the giant pharmaceutical companies, to the effect the disease was having on the country itself. Bangkok had the misfortune of being labeled the 'sex city' of the world at one time. Working alongside a large international charity and the Daily Mirror Newspaper, we also traveled to South Africa to work on that country similar, but very different issues with the Aids/HIV virus.
For over 10 years, the Human Development Foundation’s Mercy Centre's Aids hospice was the first, largest and only free Aids hospice in Bangkok. At first, the hospice was known as a dumping ground for dying people. Has the virus took hold and became more prevalent around the country, the general policy was changed from only accepting the genuinely indigent, to accepting patients and their relatives from all social backgrounds. Over the years as the treatments improved, the hospice became a place of hope for the future where people could recover and return to their communities and their families. These pictures were taken at the Mercy Centre, a hot, rundown and uncared for hospice on the outskirts of Bangkok. But nevertheless, it held significant solace for the dying and their families. The Irish American priest, Father Joe Maier has spent the past 45 years in the Klong Toey district of Bangkok, a somewhat notorious slum community. The Mercy Centre combines many other functions too: orphanage, kindergarten, programs, child protection and legal aid, support for housing, and a base for children who live on the streets, alongside it's role as a centre for HIV and AIDS. It has developed organically over the years, from very small beginnings as a makeshift child care centre to an active and robust organisation, one that's blessed by Thailand's royal family.
Father Joe, is on hand to administer care and pastoral help as well as delivering any last rites to many of the unfortunate patients. It was an unbelievable chasten experience for myself and Ros, seeing the devastating effect of the HIV virus on the individuals while also being made aware of the ramifications for the patients' families and loved ones. Happily the devastating disease has seen a significant decrease over the last decade, mainly through more educational promotions and worldwide concerns on the spread of HIV. There are still many living with the virus, but through medical advances, those carrying the disease are now able to better control lives bringing back some semblance of normally, which once wasn't possible.