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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
Aids toll rises in Thailand
Thai office workers put money in a donation box during a campaign to stop Aids in downtown Bangkok
Rural deaths are on the rise, says the minister
A senior health official in Thailand says Aids has become the main cause of death in the country, overtaking accidents, heart disease and cancer.

The Deputy Public Health Minister Surapong Suebwong-lee did not give any figures, but said the full extent of the Aids epidemic had been under-reported because relatives of victims in rural areas were reluctant to report the real cause of death.

The minister said he hoped the new findings would ensure that Thailand received a fair share of the new United Nations global Aids fund to fight the disease.

Correspondents say an estimated one million people in Thailand are infected with HIV, the virus which can lead to Aids, out of a population of 60 million.

Rising toll

Mr Surapong told The Nation newspaper: "Village headmen reported most non-accidental deaths as being a result of 'the heart stopped beating'. This led to a misconception that most Thais die of heart disease.

Person dressed as a condom hands out leaflet
There is a safe sex campaign underway
"But we have done a new random survey and found out that the biggest cause of deaths in the rural areas is Aids."

The UN Programme on HIV-Aids (UNAids) office in Bangkok said Aids deaths in Thailand would continue to rise, since there was no cure.

"This is a common trend because Aids has been in the country for more than a decade and everyone knows that at a certain time those who have been infected must die," said country adviser Sompong Charoensuk.

Thailand has the largest number of people with HIV in east Asia.

Prevention campaign

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.

A massive Aids prevention campaign got under way in the early 1990s

But Aids campaigners in Thailand have recently expressed concern that the disease is spreading to new sectors of Thai society, and that the government's resolve to combat the problem may be slipping.

See also:

25 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
New Aids fears in Thailand
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 Nov 99 | Health
HIV hits 50 million
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