San Francisco Chronicle Examines Thailand’s HIV/AIDS Infection Rates, AIDS Orphans
The San Francisco Chronicle today published two articles about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Thailand. The first piece examines the history of Thailand's "highly successful" prevention and education campaigns that slowed the spread of HIV by "targeting red light districts." Despite condom-education programs that reduced the annual number of HIV infections from 143,000 in 1991 to 29,000 in 2001, according to UNAIDS, AIDS-related illnesses are now the leading cause of death in Thailand, the Chronicle reports. More than one in every 60 Thais is HIV-positive, and by 2006, more than 50,000 people in Thailand are expected to die of AIDS-related causes annually, according to a World Bank study. Thailand's enforcement of condom use in brothels led to "plummet[ing]" infection rates there, but in 1997, the World Health Organization reported 20% of rural sex workers had HIV, compared to 7% in urban areas, and Thai health officials are "pessimistic" that they will "be able to rein in" the spread of the virus (Perrin, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/19).
A related article looks at the "huge increase" in AIDS orphans in the country, which will likely keep growing because antiretroviral drugs are not available to most HIV-positive Thais. About 63,000 children in 1995 had lost parents to the disease, but by last year, that number increased to 289,000, the Chronicle reports. A report released jointly by UNAIDS, UNICEF and the U.S. Agency for International Development, titled "Children on the Brink 2002," estimates that by 2005, 380,000 Thai children will be orphaned because of AIDS-related deaths. In response, Thailand's government in September increased the number of patients receiving free medication from 3,000 to 13,000, a move made possible because of a generic single-pill, triple-drug medication produced by a Thai company. However, obstacles remain: the drugs have "not reached most orphanages," and imported drugs cost about $490 per month in a nation where the annual per capita income is $6,600, the Chronicle reports (Stanmeyer, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/19).