PATONG: Over 30 people attended the launch of the “Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM) Project”, an Aids awareness campaign aimed at increasing condom use among male sex workers in Patong.
The seminar, held at Patong Hospital yesterday morning, was organized jointly by gay advocacy group the Rainbow Sky Organization of Thailand and Thai Red Cross Aids Research Center.
The main target of the awareness campaign will be male prostitutes working in the Patong nightlife industry.
Dr Praphan Phanuphak, Director of Thai Red Cross Aids Research Center, presented the results of a random sample of 400 male prostitutes working in Bangkok. The recorded incidence of HIV infection among them, he said, had risen to 27%, up from just 10% from last year, and increase of 170%.
Dr Praphan explained that unlike the US, where most men who have homosexual relations tend to be exclusively gay, in Thailand there is a high rate of bisexuality. Many men who have sex with other men are also involved in heterosexual relationships and risk spreading the virus to their wives and children.
He noted that although most men understand that they can protect themselves with condoms, few actually do so. He said his research showed that only about 20% of men who engage in homosexual sex use prophylactics.
“It’s easy to educate people, but far more difficult to actually get them to wear a condom. Since there is no way we can prohibit men from having homosexual sex, we must increase condom use,” he said.
He called for cooperation from entertainment venues by instituting a “no condom, no service” rule, similar to one that has been successfully implemented in Ratchaburi Province.
Dr Praphan also called for better cooperation from the government, noting that there has been reluctance by some agencies to address the problem head-on for fear of damaging the country’s reputation.
An official from the Phuket Provincial Health Office revealed that 90% of people who are HIV-positive in the province contracted the virus sexually.
Patong Hospital Director Dr Taweesak Netwong reported that his hospital is treating a total of 150 Aids patients, half of whom contracted HIV through unprotected homosexual sex. About 9% of the hospital’s Aids patients identified themselves as prostitutes, both male and female. There are about two or three Aids patients treated being on an in-patient basis on any given day, he said.
Satasorn Buapha, a member of the Phuket Gay Club, noted the irony that many gay men were “brave enough” to engage in unprotected sex – but were too afraid to get tested for the virus.
He said the project would be a good way to encourage condom use in Phuket’s gay community and encouraged high-risk individuals to get themselves tested.
He said the Phuket Gay Club has over 1,000 members and that there were over 30 entertainment venues in Patong alone catering to people seeking the services of male prostitutes.
Poonsak Sanchan of Patong Entertainment Business Association (PEBA) estimated that in Patong, some 60% of male prostitutes are bisexual and are willing to provide services to both male and female clients.
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