Today marks the 20th annual World AIDS Day. Sadly, by now the hope was there would be a cure and no more need for such days. Today and any day that AIDS awareness can be front and center to the worlds populace is extremely important, especially when the disease has faded in the minds of most people. Thailand’s AIDS story is one of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and just one reason why awareness is so important, not just today but every day.
AIDS research and prevention programs have been hard enough for the largest and most affluent countries of the world to handle so one can imagine how hard it’s been to educate and create public policy in developing nations, especially those hit hard by the disease. There are no developing countries in the world where public policy has been more effective in preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS than in Thailand.
Thailand’s comprehensive prevention programs have been very well funded and politically supported which has saved a considerable many lives. Thailand saw the HIV infection rate decrease yearly from 1991 when new HIV infections were at 143,00 to 2003 when new HIV infections bottomed out at 19,000.
Unfortunately 2003 is also the year the new infection rates began to rise again in gay males and since 2003 the real fear has been a new resurgence of infections. To this end Thailand has started to aggressively promote public awareness programs again. The problem is still very real when more than 1 in 100 adult Thai’s are infected with the disease and AIDS is now among the leading causes of death in Thailand.
Whenever you hear statistics referring to AIDS in Thailand the fist assumption is that the sex industry is the culprit and while that may have been true during the initial stages of AIDS progression in Thailand, today is a much different story. The Thai government, due in large part to their public policies and programs in the 90′s, have reduced visits to commercial sex workers by Thai men by more than half as well as decreased sexually transmitted infections, raised condom awareness and substantially decreased new HIV infections.
The majority of HIV and AIDS cases in Thailand today occur through heterosexual sex with the largest groups of new infections being seen in teenagers, married females and gay males. Even though Thailand was fast to implement prevention programs in the 90′s they have been lax in the last decade and most of today’s teenagers were not old enough to understand the prevention campaigns that were so prevalent during the 1990′s.
The current situation in Thailand as of 2008
|Estimated total population, 2008||65,493,000|
|Estimated number of people living with HIV, end 2007||610,000|
|Estimated adult HIV prevalence||1.4%|
|Estimated number of AIDS deaths in 2007||31,000|
- The majority of Thailand’s HIV infections (around 80%) occur through heterosexual sex.
- HIV affects more men than women in Thailand; the male-female ratio is 7:5.
- HIV prevalence among pregnant women, which reached a peak of 3.4% in 1992, had fallen to 0.87% by 2006.
- An estimated 1 in 5 new HIV infections in Thailand are attributable to unprotected sex between men.
Obviously these statistics are very sobering and reason for real concern. Thailand’s original AIDS awareness programs dealt a serious blow to the infection rates seen between 1991 and 2003 but, unfortunately, the Thai government became complacent once numbers began to drop. In 2001 government funding of the HIV/AIDS programs was half what it was in 1997 , by 2006 that budget was reduced by two thirds.
The declining focus on prevention saw condom use decrease and sexually transmitted infections on the rise again. Fortunately in 2007 the Thai government once again took action and set up a strategic three year plan to get back on track with prevention programs. The Thai government specifically set out to reach those groups most affected by increased infection rates as well as the nation as a whole.
Thailand’s story of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention should be a case study for every nation in the world. A once prolific program that saw infection rates decline dramatically was almost completely derailed by complacency. Thailand is back on the right path and will hopefully remain vigilant in this fight against HIV/AIDS.
It’s important that we remain vigilant world wide and keep up the efforts from awareness to prevention programs. We shouldn’t have to have a special day to remind us, every day is special and every day is important in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Now go out and tell someone about it.