Thai Government Failing To Prevent, Treat HIV/AIDS Among Injection Drug Users, Report Says
The Thai government's failure to effectively address HIV/AIDS among injection drug users in the country is undermining its position as a leader in the fight against the disease, according to a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch and the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. According to the groups, IDUs were the first group in Thailand to be affected by HIV, and HIV prevalence among IDUs has been between 40% and 60% during the last 20 years (Streib, AP/International Herald Tribune, 11/29).
The 57-page report -- titled "Deadly Denial: Barriers to HIV/AIDS Treatment for People Who Use Drugs in Thailand" -- found that routine police harassment and arrest "keeps drug users from receiving lifesaving HIV information and services that Thailand has pledged to provide," according to a HRW release (HRW release, 11/29). The government between 2003 and 2004 launched a campaign against the illegal drug trade that led to the deaths of thousands of alleged dealers in the country, the AP/Herald Tribune reports.
The report also found that antiretroviral treatment often is denied to HIV-positive people based on their status as drug users. It noted that HIV treatment programs sometimes presume that IDUs are incapable of following through with their antiretroviral regimens and refuse to refer them for treatment. In addition, the report said that the Thai government has failed to effectively promote harm-reduction techniques -- such as the provision of no-cost, clean needles to IDUs -- to help reduce the spread of HIV. About 1% of IDUs received harm-reduction services, according to a July 2006 USAID study. Under Thai law, sale and possession of clean syringes is legal, but authorities in some cases have considered their possession as a basis for drug charges, the report said (AP/International Herald Tribune, 11/29).
"Thailand wants to be seen as a success story in the fight against AIDS, yet it is failing to address the epidemic among the population hit hardest by HIV," Rebecca Schleifer, an advocate with the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at HRW, said. Paisan Suwannawong, director of ThaiTAG, added that Thailand "must stop discrimination against drug users seeking health care services, or it will never meet its promise to ensure access to AIDS treatment to all who need it" (HRW release, 11/29).
The report is available online.