HIV-Positive Drug Users in Thailand Experience Difficulties Accessing Treatment, Advocates Say
Although many injection drug users in Thailand are HIV-positive, the government's campaign to curb drug use makes it difficult for IDUs to access no-cost antiretroviral treatment provided by the government, advocates said recently, VOA News reports. According to VOA News, an estimated half of the country's 100,000 to 250,000 IDUs are HIV-positive. Some groups say that because health care providers often share IDU's medical records with police, the population is unwilling to seek treatment. Thailand's policies on illegal drug use -- which some human rights groups say resulted in almost 3,000 deaths among users and dealers in 2003 -- lead many IDUs into hiding, where their risk of contracting HIV is increased because of shared needles and a lack of services, according to VOA News.
The groups Human Rights Watch and the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group say that many HIV-positive drug users regularly are denied treatment at public hospitals in Thailand. Karyn Kaplan, director of policy and development with the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, said the majority of people the group works with are HIV-positive IDUs who do not have access to HIV/AIDS services "because the government has neglected the issue" despite a "20-year epidemic raging amongst this community." Petchsri Sirinirund, senior expert in preventive medicine at Thailand's Department of Disease Control, said that although some health care providers might not provide HIV-positive IDUs no-cost treatment, the government has "adopted programs to train workers to treat such patients." She said that health officials have been trying to use the "perspective" of people living with HIV to improve interactions between health care providers and patients. In addition, Petchsri said that the National Health Security Office next year will begin publicly funding methadone treatment programs for IDUs. Rights groups have said that in order to help all people living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand, the government should end human rights violations against drug users and work to eliminate prejudices toward the group (Goodman, VOA News, 8/13).