Number of New HIV Infections Rising in Thailand, Thai Senator Says
The number of new HIV infections in Thailand is rapidly increasing because of widespread unsafe sex practices among youth in the country, Thai Senator and leading HIV/AIDS advocate Mechai Viravaidya said recently, the AP/Washington Post reports (Tang, AP/Washington Post, 10/3). Mechai, who is known as "Mr. Condom" since he spearheaded Thailand's national condom promotion initiative 10 years ago, said that two years of complacency concerning prevention education and the availability of condoms also threatens to erode the country's earlier successes against the disease (Associated Press, 9/30). Thailand was one of the first countries most affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic to recognize and address HIV/AIDS in the early 1990s. The country initiated programs to encourage condom use, especially among commercial sex workers, and implemented antiretroviral drug programs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/7/04). Although official statistics place the number of new HIV cases in Thailand at 19,000 last year, Mechai said that there were at least 25,000 new HIV infections during the same time period. "It's clear that AIDS has returned to rise again. ... We've gone back to the days of ignorance. There's no reason why next year it won't be 100,000 new cases because there's so much unprotected sex," Mechai said. He added that the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among young people in the country increased by 30% in 2004 and that he expects HIV/AIDS incidence is on a "similar track," according to the Associated Press.
Treatment, Prevention Campaigns
The government on Saturday launched a national treatment plan that aims to provide 80,000 people living with HIV/AIDS with antiretrovirals, according to Sombat Thaenprasertsuk, director of the Ministry of Public Health's HIV/AIDS division. About 60,000 HIV-positive people in Thailand already receive antiretrovirals at no cost under programs funded by short-term budgets, according to Sombat. He added that the new treatment program will be funded under Thailand's national health care program, which provides basic care to all Thai people. Under the plan, HIV/AIDS patients will have access to locally made generic drugs or combination therapies that include imported medicines, Sombat said (Schuettler, Reuters AlertNet, 10/1). Although Thailand's government has done much to provide care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, the government recently has done little in terms of prevention and education efforts, according to Mechai. He recently launched a campaign that aims to promote condom use among Thailand's young people, only 20% to 30% of whom use condoms consistently. "[P]eople think [HIV/AIDS] is gone. I've had some kids say to me, 'Is AIDS still around?' They think it's a museum piece and it's not," he said (Tang, Associated Press, 9/30).