Sunday, October 30, 2005

Another infectious disease

Just spent a few days in a workshop looking at testing for HIV. Now, this infectious disease is one that many people in the area I am working in have, many more do not know they have, and almost everybody is scared of. There are many reasons for this - the culture of silence, the culture of prostitution, the lack of accessible treatment - which we could discuss all day whilst getting nowhere. The bits that we can do are already too big a task to waste time on what we can't do.

However, I would like to make a small protest about my own government's handling of the issue. What follows is completely unsubstantiated, but heard from those in a position to know.

Refugees get tested before being accepted. Given that mandatory testing has no public health benefit, and from my studies of the migration rules last year there is no official requirement for HIV testing (please correct me if you can), I would argue that testing those who are fleeing persecution is ethically dubious and merely cause for further discriminiation. However, if someone feels it must be done then I can at least see their point of view.

What I really object to is mandatorily (?) testing someone and then publishing their positive HIV status as the reason for rejecting their application. Someone who lives a enclosed community of several thousand people already has no privacy. I would have thought that a supposedly enlightened country could find a little more sensitivity. But, I guess our handling of refugee issues isn't exactly known for its sensivity or recognition of human rights.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bye Bye Birdie

Well, there may be many things to write about, not least my recent clambering over ancient stones, however there's one thing that's got the whole world talking: Bird Flu.

Now, here's a few facts:
It's killed 60 people world-wide
13 were in Thailand
You can't get it from eating cooked chicken or eggs
It's NOT a human epidemic - yet!

However, the line between reasonable precautions and panic is a little unclear. My province of Thailand has been declared an epidemic area, with 2 proven and 3 suspected human cases. Given that I see at least 10 people with fever per day, this is rather few people. People working for other organisations in the country have been told to stock up on 2 weeks of food, for when we're all quarantined indoors. Everybody's getting flu vaccines - which are for a different disease. The whole thing feels a little millenial, really.

if it did jump over, it would be here. Any one of those 10 people could have it. We could watch the health system fall apart around us.

I'm not panicking yet, and to hear about people in New York requesting Tamiflu is ridiculous. But I am asking about contact with dead chickens!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ahh, Angkor

So, have a limited ability to type at the moment. May have something to do with the momumental last few days. May have something to do with the huge steak and beer I just consumed. May have something to do with the 60 plus kilometres I've ridden in the last 2 days, which oddly enough has affected my hands.

Started my holiday on Friday night. We ventured out into the nightlife of Bangkok - the wierd spaceship thing up the road from the hotel which has intrigued me since my first visit. Looking rather like the ice-skating rink in Oakleigh, it's home to the hottest nightclub in BKK. Being a Farang, they seemed not to recognise that no self-respecting Hottest Nightclub at home would let me in the door, especially in flat shoes, and happily stamped my wrist. What followed was a much-needed boogie until the usual lights-up closing time, all of 1 hour later. 1 am!!! And Bangkok likes to think it's cosmopolitan.

So, still in a dancing mood and end-of-term-holiday spirit, we did our best to keep partying. The next nightclub (normal a little flexible) had had the official closing hours enforced that night. So we ended up at a little table on the footpath, underneath the stairs to the skytrain station, chatting to the owner and the guys selling fake designer belts. This is perhaps where things started to go wrong.

So, both of my holidays in Thailand thus far have started with vomiting. Last time I was an innocent victim of a potentially deadly virus. This time, I have only myself and my poor three-am decision-making to blame. Or perhaps the man who sold us the homebrew palm whisky out of two jerrycans slung on a pole over his shoulders. Either way, 'twasn't pleasant.

So, now fully recovered, I have been marvelling at Angkor. The scale. The carvings. The very persistant kids selling flutes. The trees. The stone faces. My aching legs. If you want to see it, make sure you still have a functioning pair of knees when you visit.

The place is amazing. No photos do it justice. Certainly my decriptions don't. If you have a chance, come and see it. And despite the above, go by bicycle. We drifted back last night through the rice fields, the setting sun lighting up the towers and stone elephants. And we're doing it again tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mind goggling

I made a discovery a few days ago. Well, made a discovery in the way Captain Cook did: plenty of other people knew it was out there, but I'll claim it anyway.

How cool is Google Earth?

You can see the tree outside my bedroom window at my last house. You can see the two bridges in Sangkhla. You can see the streets in our villages (if you know where to look!).

As if I needed another internet addiction.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Conveniently sized

The most medically exciting thing I did this week was remove a blue plastic bead from the left nostril of the 2 year-old daughter of our pharmacist. The nanny had excitedly called the office to tell of the emergency, and when her mother arrived home the little princess anounced that she'd thought about testing a larger bead but that would have caused too many problems. After wrapping her in a sheet and having 2 people hold her down, I levered it out in a very satifying now-you-don't-see-it-now-you-do manner, which somehow felt like it should have had an associated popping sound.

Seems that this is a childhood right of passage. My collague tried it with a nut from a tree. A person who happens to share much of my genetic material, when scolded by a friend's mother for picking his nose, annouced indignantly, "I'm not, I'm trying to get the sultana out!" And I've heard a story of the angelic-looking tot who over a period of several weeks got more and more smelly. When no amount of scrubbing had any effect, her desperate parents took her to the doctor - who removed a piece of rotting meat from her nose.

Said local 2 year-old has now been nick-named "Pearl". And when I saw her today, hiding in her house, she refused to come out because she's "not finished being angry yet". Ah, saving the world ain't easy.