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Condoms like cabbages, AIDS like diabetes -- just normal

11-30-2011 17:14 BJT Special Report:World AIDS Day 2011 |

by Yang Dingdu

BANGKOK, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Bent Paulsen from Denmark is excited about the upcoming date with his girlfriend. He's even more excited about the place she picked for dinner -- Condoms & Cabbages.

"That's one crazy name from a restaurant," Paulsen said as he took pictures of the sign. The point of the restaurant is to promote the idea that condoms are just as common as cabbages in the village, said Mechai Viravaidya, founder of the restaurant in downtown Bangkok.

Condoms bring color to the restaurant: the Santa at the doorway has a beard made of white condoms, light bulbs and lamps are wrapped in yellow and red condoms, and neat lines of condoms are framed and hung on the wall together with the painting of Mona Lisa.

The restaurant, always booming with customers during meal hours, earns about 4 million U.S. dollars a year. Its revenue goes to the Population and Development International (PDI), Thailand's largest NGO, which is also chaired by Mechai and works on family planning, AIDS prevention, poverty eradication and education.

When Australian James Smith came across with the restaurant, he felt perplexed. Now he is used to the condom that goes with the bill, and Condoms & Cabbages has become one of his favorite restaurants.

"I fell in love with this place once I found out what it is about -- delicious food, nice environment and a good cause," Smith said.

As many people have died from AIDS as those killed in the World War II on both sides -- 62 million people, Mechai said. "We use the restaurant to remind people that condom is a life saver. People should be embarrassed by guns, tanks, bombs, but not condoms. They are life savers."

To Michael Hahn, the UNAIDS coordinator in Thailand, it's not just condoms that need to be normalized. "Like condoms are as normal as cabbages, AIDS is just a chronic disease like diabetes."

One key challenge is to kill the fear in many people's mindset by normalizing the disease. People refuse to take HIV tests because of fear. They fear if they were found positive, they would die soon. They fear friends and colleagues may would find out and turn their back on them, he said.

Stigma and discrimination also stem from fear. People brainwashed with the slogan -- AIDS is a death sentence -- often have irrational reactions that not only hurt those living with the virus but also hamper efforts to contain the epidemic by shying people away from tests and treatment, Hahn added.

Antiretroviral tablets can keep the virus counts to an undetectable level, which means the patient will not infect other people. People living with HIV can live more than 20 years. They can marry and have children without infecting their partners or the children, he said.

A total of 2.5 million deaths have been averted in low-and- middle-income countries since 1995 due to antiretroviral therapy, according to statistics from UNAIDS.

Much of the averted deaths in the past two years when access to treatment has improved greatly. In 2010 alone, 700 000 AIDS- related deaths were averted.

"Patients can have a long productive life with family. There is no difference anymore, really, between any chronic disease and HIV, " Hahn said.

Editor:Zhang Hao |Source: Xinhua

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