Dr. Praphan Phanuphak: At the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention and research in Thailand

By Nicole Robicheau
More than 30 years ago, Dr. Praphan Phanuphak diagnosed the first three cases of HIV in Thailand. It was February of 1985, and he was 35-years-old at the time.
Dr. Praphan Phanuphak“The reason I was that person is because I was trained in clinical immunology from Denver Colorado, so I knew the technology of evaluating the immune status of patients, although at that time I knew nothing about HIV/AIDS,” said Dr. Phanuphak.
He was working at a hospital run by Thai Red Cross at the time. Four years after those first few cases, he co-founded the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre, where he stills works today as its director. Pushing 70, he shows no signs of retiring any time soon.
“As long as I know there’s a need, either by the key population that’s affected or by the patients,  and if I know there’s something we can offer, we can benefit them, not do harm, then I think it’s our responsibility to start that,” said Dr. Phanuphak.
The centre has been at the forefront of government policy change in relation to HIV/AIDS in the country, for example, by opening up the first anonymous clinic in 1993 where people could get tested without having their information shared. According to Dr. Phanuphak , the government decided to lift the law on mandatory reporting due to the success of the clinic. Now Thai citizens can get two free tests a year by showing their ID card, but their number is immediately transformed into a code so their identify is kept private.
In addition to the anonymous clinic that’s still in operation today, the centre is also involved in various clinical trials related to HIV/AIDS. They also run a newly opened clinic called Tangerine, that services transgender people. Not only does the clinic service the transgender population, but it’s also staffed by them.
Throughout the more than 30 years that Dr. Phanuphak has been working on HIV/AIDS, there’s one thing that he still finds difficult to work on.
“People have more knowledge, however the thing that doesn’t change much is the stigma, the discrimination, it’s still there. I don’t know how to solve that and I also don’t think you have a unique answer or formula for every country, rich or poor, to solve this problem,” said Dr. Phanuphak. “It’s very difficult.”
Despite this, Dr. Phanuphak is encouraged by the centre’s statistics showing that over the past several years, the number of HIV infections has gone down.
“I think this is encouragement for me and for other people to continue to work,” said Dr. Phanuphak.
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