Thailand Becomes Model in Fight Against HIV/AIDS in Asia; XV International AIDS Conference Will Highlight Country’s Successes
Thailand's "aggressive steps" to lower HIV prevalence have become a "model" for fighting the disease in Asia, an achievement that will be highlighted during the XV International AIDS Conference that will be held July 11-16 in Bangkok, Thailand, the Wall Street Journal reports. Thailand has reduced HIV prevalence rates through national initiatives that promote condom use and treatment programs that offer pregnant women access to drugs that prevent mother-to-child transmission. Approximately one million HIV-positive people live in Thailand -- which was one of the first "hard hit" countries to recognize and address HIV/AIDS in the early 1990s -- out of 62 million people in the country.
Sex Workers, Vertical Transmission
To curb the spread of HIV, the Thai government adopted a policy aimed at commercial sex workers that called for 100% condom use in brothels, according to the Journal. The policy helped to reduce HIV prevalence among "brothel-based" commercial sex workers from 30% in 1996 to 10% currently, according to Anupong Chitwarakorn, a senior preventive medicine expert in the Thai Ministry of Public Health (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 7/6). The government also has "drastically" reduced mother-to-child HIV transmission primarily through a national program launched in 2000, the Associated Press reports. The program offers HIV testing for all pregnant women, antiretroviral drug treatment for HIV-positive pregnant women and their infants and education about the risks of HIV transmission through breastfeeding for women who have recently given birth. Without intervention programs or access to drugs, the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is approximately 25% to 40%, with more than 33% of transmission attributed to breastfeeding, according to the Associated Press (Joshi, Associated Press, 7/4).
Despite the success of Thailand's initiatives in lowering HIV prevalence rates, experts warn that a "massive relapse" could occur if the country does not "recommit itself to fighting the pandemic head on," according to AFP/Yahoo! News. Adult HIV prevalence has dropped to its lowest level from 2.3% in 1995 -- the "height of the crisis" -- to 1.54% in 2004, and new HIV cases have fallen to 19,000 in 2003 compared with 143,000 in 1991, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. However, "[g]eneral complacency has set in," Sen. Mechai Viravaidya, co-chair of the Community Program Committee for the AIDS Conference, said, adding, "It reflects very clearly that the effort we have put into public education has weakened." Lucita Lazo, East and Southeast Asian program director for the U.N. Development Fund for Women, said, "Thailand has been quite successful in the early stages in licking the problem, but I think success can be your own enemy," adding, "It's time to ring the alarm signals again and ... take more action, particularly promoting the use of condoms" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/4).