Thai HIV/AIDS Advocate Mechai To Head Country’s New HIV Prevention Plan
One of Thailand's leading HIV/AIDS advocates and former public health minister, Mechai Viravaidya, in early April was appointed to design a new federal HIV prevention plan that will target the country's youth, AFP/France24 reports. Thailand "stands out as one of the bright spots in the world's battle against HIV, although it remains one of the hardest-hit countries in Asia," according to AFP/France24. According to UNAIDS, Thailand has an adult HIV prevalence of about 1.4%, but a World Bank report released last year found that an additional 7.7 million people would be HIV-positive if the country had not implemented effective prevention programs in the 1990s. "Much of the credit for that turnaround" is attributed to Mechai, who during the past 30 years has "use[d] humor and unlikely condom creations" to eliminate the stigma surrounding the discussion of sex in the country.
According to Mechai, Thailand's HIV prevention efforts have been waning in recent years, causing concerns that cases of the virus, especially among young people, are increasing. "You've heard the saying, winning the battle and losing the war," he said, adding, "Now this may happen in Thailand." During the last three years, public education in Thailand from the Ministry for Public Health almost has been "zilch," Mechai said. "Younger generations are now saying, 'Is AIDS still around? We thought it was gone. That's why we're not using condoms anymore,'" he said, adding, "It's entirely tragic. We've done it, and now we just let it fall, fall back." The health ministry has acknowledged that prevention efforts have waned, AFP/France24 reports. "In the last three years, the government let each ministry set up its own budget for AIDS prevention, but it was a very low priority," Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla said. According to AFP/France24, Mechai's appointment "seems to indicate a new commitment to prevention." Mechai said, "The government has obviously realized that we've got to do something. If we go the way we've been doing things, we're going to get clobbered" (AFP/France24, 5/7).