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Monday, 25 June, 2001, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
New Aids fears in Thailand
Thai office workers put money in a donation box during a campaign to stop Aids in downtown Bangkok
The profile of Aids victims in Thailand is changing
By Jonathan Head in Bangkok

Aids campaigners in Thailand fear the disease is now spreading among new sectors of Thai society, and that the government's resolve to combat the problem may be slipping.


Maybe we have to pay more attention to intravenous drug users and the people who have casual sex, especially young people

Access counselling group spokesman Chiaramuch Premchaiporn

Thailand has the largest number of people with HIV, which causes Aids, in East Asia. The first case was recorded in 1984, and today about 700,000 people carry the virus.

It is not difficult to see why Thailand has been so badly affected.

There are thought to be more than a million people working in the sex industry, and the country attracts nearly 10 million foreign visitors every year.

Initially the Aids threat prompted strong reaction from the government.

A massive Aids prevention campaign got under way in the early 1990s. It was spearheaded by Meechai Viravaidya, an outspoken senator, who was dubbed 'Mr Condom' for his efforts to promote safe sex, especially among prostitutes.

A vaccine shot is administered at a medical centre in Bangkok
The cost of approved treatment puts it beyond the pockets of most Thais

The result was what the World Bank has described as one of the only examples of a successful national Aids prevention programme.

Without it, projections show that Thailand would have suffered infection levels found in the worst-hit African countries.

But today the profile of Aids victims in Thailand is changing, and Aids campaigners like Chiaramuch Premchaiporn, of the Bangkok based counselling group Access, say it is no longer enough just to target the sex industry.

Married women

"We found that can happen with every group in Thailand, and maybe we have to pay more attention to intravenous drug users and the people who have casual sex, especially young people," he said.

Access counsellors say that they are getting increasing numbers of calls from married women who have been infected by husbands, who in turn were infected after having sex with prostitutes.

There are also large numbers of infected children appearing, who were born to parents with HIV.

But there is another concern among the counsellors. They fear that the government is losing its sense of urgency and cite the fact that official spending on Aids prevention has actually fallen slightly in recent years.

Unaffordable

They also want more action by the government to make the anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV more affordable.

This problem was brought into focus in recent weeks, when thousands of HIV sufferers turned up at a clinic outside Bangkok, which was providing a drug it claimed fought Aids.

It is actually a food supplement with no proven track record of fighting the virus.

But the cost of approved treatments puts them beyond the pockets of most Thais.

And with HIV infection rates now likely to soar in neighbouring countries, especially in Cambodia and Burma, Thailand's Aids epidemic, no longer gets as much attention as it used to.

But without greater vigilance, campaigners fear that much of the progress made here over the past decade, could be undone.

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See also:

12 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thais battle firms over Aids drugs
05 Jun 01 | Health
Thai Aids 'cure' disputed
03 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Thailand
23 Jun 01 | Americas
Brazil uses porn to fight Aids
19 Apr 01 | Africa
SA victory in Aids drugs case
07 Nov 00 | Americas
Latin America 'faces Aids epidemic'
03 Feb 01 | Americas
Brazil in US Aids drugs row
23 Nov 99 | Health
HIV hits 50 million
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