1999 Student-Faculty Fellows: St. Olaf College, Team 1

Thailand: HIV/AIDS Treatment and Education in Rural vs. Urban Northern Thailand

Mentor: Michael R. Leming, Sociology and Anthropology
Student: Amy S. Brendel, ’99, Biology


Amy S. Brendel, ’99

By extending my knowledge of medicine through my research on HIV prevention in Thailand, I came to appreciate how medicine must involve an interplay of basic science, research, and the community. Further, I observed the complexities of providing medical knowledge and service to a community. I discovered the importance of considering cultural and socioeconomic factors, and personal belief systems when helping to improve an individual’s and a community’s health.

Through my experiences, I came to realize the impact society and culture has on one’s view of one’s body and on one’s health. Receiving a traditional Thai massage, the Thai woman showed me through touch and pressure points how far short western doctors and medicine can fall when healing because the whole person is not considered. This whole person is not simply a collection of specific cells and organs but an intricate web affected by its environment and much larger than the sum of its smaller parts. My sensitivity to diverse perspectives, as well as my understanding of the importance of one’s environment in health issues, adds to my potential to become a good doctor. I feel equipped to use my gifts of empathy, understanding, ability to listen, and interdisciplinary knowledge of the sciences to be a servant of the community through medicine.

Prof. Michael R. Leming

I have been to Thailand more than ten times and have served as a year as Visiting Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Chiang Mai University. Consequently, the research sponsored by the Freeman foundation did not open as many new worlds for me as it did for my student Amy Brendel. However, it did have an important impact upon my future teaching and research in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

The primary impact was a sense of confidence I developed in directing student research (especially with a female student). Amy and I worked very well together in a professional and collegial manner. We became a professional research team and a clear division of labor and mutual respect. We both discovered the incredible generosity of the Thai people and soon discovered that in Thailand, almost any research can be conducted if one has the right group of friends and research associates. All of these research connections (especially the affiliation with the Chiang Mai University’s Social Research Institute) will assist me in my planned future research and teaching in Thailand. For this assistance and support I will be forever grateful.

Research Abstract

“Community-based HIV/AIDS Prevention and Education in Urban and Rural Northern Thailand” – In the summer of 1999, we evaluated specific Thai education programs related to the prevention of HIV/AIDS in the city of Chiang Mai and the remote Karen tribal village and surrounding area of Mu Si Khee. By interviewing local doctors, health officials and governmental and non-governmental program directors, we were able to gain a better understanding of what types of education and treatment best reach different populations within Thailand. Overarching themes of all the programs we found focused on community development for Thai and hill tribe peoples since the socioeconomic impacts of the disease well exceeds the government’s ability to deal with these problems alone. Through interviewing many people who deal with the many problems caused by AIDS on a daily basis, we were also able to gain a perspective on the future of AIDS in Thailand, and thus discuss future educational programs targeted at specific future problems.