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Wednesday, October 21, 1998 Published at 03:52 GMT 04:52 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Thailand's Aids crisis: Worst 'yet to come'

Thai prostitutes continue to be the main victims

Medical researchers in Thailand have warned that the spread of Aids in the country is far worse than originally thought with up to 286,000 deaths from the disease by the end of the century.

The situation is worse in the poorest northern region of the country where 80% of deaths amongst females aged 25 to 29 are attributable to Aids.

A joint study, by the European Union and the Institute of Population Studies in Bangkok, says the number of Thais who have died of Aids is nine times higher than has been reported officially.

"Preliminary calculations show that the vast majority of Aids-related mortality in Thailand is still to come," it said.

[ image: Many prostitutes are recruited from poor northern villages]
Many prostitutes are recruited from poor northern villages
The study says the biggest increase in infection is among women in their early-twenties in the northern province of Chang Rai, from where many of Thailand's prostitutes are recruited.

There deaths related to Aids rose from 0.83 per 1,000 females in 1990 to 8.46% in 1996.

Prostitutes who fall ill whilst working in cities such as Bangkok are often sent back to the their home villages where understanding of Aids is limited.

The growing use of intravenous drugs in the north of the country has also contributed to rising infection rates.

Nationwide decline

However, nationwide the study said there was evidence to show the number of new infections had sharply declined between 1993 and 1996.

The report says nationwide nearly a quarter-of-a-million have died of the disease since 1985, but just 24,667 deaths were reported by the Public Health Ministry.

The researchers blame the discrepancy in Aids statistics on the stigma attached to the disease, which leads to under-reporting by health workers and victims' families.

"Under-reporting is a worldwide phenomenon and is related to the resources allocated to the health system," said Alessio Panza, head of the EU's Aids programme in Bangkok.

"Even countries with a lot of resources have under-reporting. The problem is that many medical staff don't consider collecting the data a useful activity, so they either don't do it or invent the figures."

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