New HIV/AIDS Cases Among MSM in Thailand Increasing, Officials Say
Although the overall number of HIV/AIDS cases in Thailand is declining, new cases among men who have sex with men have been increasing dramatically during the past few years, the Nation reports.
According to Somchai Chakrabhand, director general of Thailand's Department of Disease Control, a recent survey assessing the HIV situation across the country found that MSM are at a higher risk of contracting HIV in concentrated tourism centers such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. The survey of the demographic also found that HIV incidence among MSM in Bangkok increased from 17% in 2003 to 30% in 2007. The rate of new HIV cases in Chiang Mai rose to 16.9% last year from 15.3% in 2005, while rates in Phuket increased from 5.5% in 2005 to 20% in 2007. The survey also found that half of MSM do not use condoms and that male commercial sex workers are at high risk of contracting HIV because they engage in unsafe sexual behavior and lack knowledge of HIV prevention, Somchai said. Somchai added that high rates of new HIV/AIDS cases have been increasing among MSM in recent years because a prevention campaign had been discontinued.
Manoon Jaikueankaew of DDC's Unit 10 in Chiang Mai said that as a result of the discontinued program, MSM do not have access to public health services or medication for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. In addition, those who have HIV/AIDS or STIs do not seek treatment because of related stigma.
According to the Nation, there are not a sufficient amount of agencies and funding to support HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in local areas. Manoon said, "A one-stop service is really needed to provide information about health care to" MSM, adding, "This is the only way for them to protect themselves from HIV."
Chatwut Wangwon -- who works for a joint program of the Thai Ministry of Public Health and U.S. CDC -- said that while working in Phuket for four years, he found that most MSM who contract HIV are students, of working age and single. In addition, at least 27% could have sex with men or women, which means they also can transmit the virus to women. Chatwut also said that about 50% of MSM do not use condoms.
According to Chatwut, the best way to reduce HIV/AIDS cases among MSM is to provide no-cost condoms and raise awareness of HIV symptoms. "The best thing that we need to do is make them know earlier about the infection and their symptoms," he said (Pongphon, Nation, 10/31).