Thailand

Percentage of HIV infections rising among young Thais

In a worrying new trend, the percentage of AIDS infections has been rising among young Thais. According to the director of the Disease Control Department’s Division of AIDS, nearly two-thirds of new HIV infections are in young people.

The director, Dr Cheewanan Lertpiriyasuwat, said this was much higher than the global average of around 30%. One HIV/AIDS prevention organisation, M Plus, said that out of 250 new HIV infections detected in the northern city of Phitsanulok, more than 60 per cent were in students.

According to the AIDS Epidemic Model, about 6,500 Thai citizens are likely to have contracted HIV last year. That year, 9,300 people in Thailand died from AIDS, Thai PBS reported. This is even though comprehensive HIV care is free in Thailand.

Cheewanan said that one factor in the spread of AIDS is people hooking up with strangers online.

Thailand’s universal healthcare coverage (UHC) offers people living with HIV-free antiretroviral drugs and two free blood tests per year. Some 450,000 people are currently receiving antiviral drugs in the country.

However, the president of the Thai Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS said the high number of deaths from AIDS shows gaps in the system.

The president, Apiwat Kwangkaew, believes some people may have stopped coming for antiretrovirals because they were worried about the stigma attached to anti-AIDS medication.

Apiwat said that many companies still test recruits for HIV, including military and police schools. He noted that employers often reject candidates with HIV. Apiwat said the Thai Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS was pushing for an anti-discrimination law.

Other HIV patients might struggle financially, and have difficulties travelling to pick up the medicines, he said. Apiwat noted that some medical facilities refuse to provide dialysis to HIV-positive people, forcing them to travel farther from home to get it.

Apiwat recommended that hospitals design a system that improves the follow-up process.

Thailand now has a “Get to Zero” goal that it aims to meet by 2030. It is currently aiming to reduce infections to no more than 1,000 per year, and AIDS-related deaths to no more than 4,000. Thailand also wants to reduce the percentage of people with negative attitudes toward people with HIV from 26.7% in 2019 to no more than 10%.

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Tara Abhasakun

A Thai-American dual citizen, Tara has reported news and spoken on a number of human rights and cultural news issues in Thailand. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in history from The College of Wooster. She interned at Southeast Asia Globe, and has written for a number of outlets. Tara reports on a range of Thailand news issues.