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Phuket health workers battle HIV/Aids, STDs – and social stigma

Legacy Phuket Gazette



Phuket health workers battle HIV/Aids, STDs – and social stigma | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: It’s no secret that prostitution, while illegal, is rife on Phuket.

While most public agencies turn a blind eye to the reality, the Phuket Provincial Health Office (PPHO) however, continues to run its ongoing campaign to ensure sex workers have voluntaryregular health checks.

On the front lines as head of the PPHO’s HIV/Aids division is Eam-orn Kittitornkul, a 22-year veteran of public health work in Thailand.

Ms Eam-orn and her team do not debate the legality of prostitution, nor do they lecture on morality; they simply go out on the streets once a month to educate and check the health of scores of women on Phuket engaged in the world’s oldest profession.

The officers have one goal in mind: protecting the women’s health. They conduct regular checkups, educate on safe sex practices, and conduct free blood testing for HIV/Aids.

It has proved a challenge to get women to come forward and have the checkups. That takes trust, and trust takes time to develop.

“The relationship between female sex workers and public health officers and volunteers has been more than just friends for a while now,” says Ms Eam-orn.

“We’re like family. This helps us to convince them to get health checkups,” she explained.

Statistics add weight to her argument: In July 2009, there were 6,457 people in Phuket known to have HIV/Aids. As of July this year, that number had risen to 6,951.

That’s 494 new HIV/Aids cases “arriving” in the province in a single year – more than one per day.

According to PPHO statistics, 93.1% of those in Phuket with HIV/Aids contracted the condition through unprotected sex.

Adding to the problem is an array of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) present on the island.

An estimated 80% of reported STD infections occur through heterosexual sex, but that only includes cases the PPHO knows about. Many more cases are treated at private clinics.

To encourage more women to step up and undergo health checks, Ms Eam-orn and her team recently ran the Phuket part of a national campaign launched under the Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The campaign included road shows in four major tourism and economic areas – Bangkok, Chonburi, Chiang Mai and Phuket – with the aim of breaking down the social stigma faced by female sex workers.

The program asserted that by not looking down on themselves, female sex workers would be more likely to take better care of their health, which would lead to fewer incidences of STDs.

The number of STD cases reported to the PPHO in Phuket has fallen from 558 last year to 429 this year.

In Phuket, Ms Eam-orn and her team took the campaign to the heart of Phuket Town’s sex industry: Phun Pol Rd Soi 11.

They spoke to the women and showed a short film highlighting that female sex workers have the same human rights as others and should not let their occupation shame them into avoiding medical services.

Sao (not her real name), a 36-year-old sex worker originally from Suphanburi, said, “I know that society looks down on us all the time, but whether we feel insulted by it is up to us. I normally come for health checks about twice a month, or if possible once a week.

“It is important to look after our health, such as by using condoms. I have to be careful and refuse customers who ask to not use one,” she added.

— Sittipong Nongkaew

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.


70% of Phuket’s tourism businesses are closed, many for good

Caitlin Ashworth



70% of Phuket’s tourism businesses are closed, many for good | The Thaiger

Most tourism businesses in Phuket have closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and they probably won’t be up and running again until foreign tourists are let back in Thailand. Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew says around 70% of tourism businesses have closed, most of them just temporarily, but some have shut down permanently. But the statistics are not quite that simple, with the east side of the island, largely inhabited by locals with the central business district of Phuket Town and some of the more popular expat towns, doing far better than the tourist magnets of the west coast. The Thaiger estimates that on the west coast the number would exceed 90%.

Before the pandemic, tourism to Phuket brought in 450 billion baht a year with 400 billion baht from foreign visitors while the other 50 billion baht was from domestic tourists. Thailand has been trying to increase domestic tourism to help revive the industry after the pandemic. Phuket’s governor says it helps, but not enough.

“Their visits can help solve some of our economic problems, but they cannot replace the need of foreign tourists.”

66.8% of tourism businesses in Phuket have closed temporarily while 2.8% have closed permanently, according to data by the Digital Economy Promotion Agency. (Again the percentage along the west coast is MUCH higher – just take a drive through Paton, Kat, Karon). Phuket’s governor is trying figure out how to recover the economy. And fast.

“By the end of September, the number of businesses to be closed will increase up to 70% for sure.”

While many businesses are closed, the governor says Phuket is “almost 100% ready to welcome foreign tourists.” The governor says he can’t give an answer to when foreign tourists will arrive in Phuket, but he claims they’ve “prepared every step,” from checking in at the airport to hotel quarantine. They’re just going to install some new temperature check machines at the Phuket International Airport and review the procedures for welcoming the tourists.

“We have to work and prepare carefully to welcome foreign tourists… We have to gradually open our door to welcome small groups of people first, in order to test our system, and then open for bigger groups.”

At the moment, only 3 venues in Phuket have been approved to operate as alternative state quarantine facilities. Anantara Phuket Suites & Villas has 100 rooms available, Anantara Mai Khao Phuket has 36 villas and Trisara resort has 15 villas. All are 5 star venues with a commensurate 5 star cost.

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Thailand’s Social Security Office forced to explain investment in Sri Panwa Phuket Resort trust fund

Maya Taylor



Thailand’s Social Security Office forced to explain investment in Sri Panwa Phuket Resort trust fund | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Sri Panwa Phuket Resort - Sri Panwa Phuket

The Social Security Office, a department under the direction of Thailand’s Ministry of Labour, is being asked to explain its investment in the trust fund of Phuket’s Sri Panwa Phuket Resort. The demand comes as members of the opposition and political activists call for an investigation into the property’s land rights. The owner of Sri Panwa Phuket, Vorasit Issara, has been condemned online recently, with his property attracting multiple negative reviews, after he criticised anti-government protest leader, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul.

Thai PBS World reports that the Civil Society for State Welfare is calling on the SSO to clarify its investment in the Sri Panwa Hospitality Real Estate Investment Trust, thought to be worth around 500 million baht. Nimit Thian-udom says that, while the SSO’s investment does not break any laws, the board must explain the reasons behind the investment decision and clarify the return on that investment. In addition, he says the SSO should attach more importance to good governance when choosing where to invest.

The call for clarity is echoed by opposition MP Chirayu Huangsap, from the Pheu Thai Party, who calls on the Labour Minister to explain the investment. He adds that any discrepancies will be reported to both the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission.

The land rights of the luxury Sri Panwa Phuket resort, which sits on prime land atop Phuket’s Cape Panwa, overlooking the south-eastern tip of the island, are also being called into question. Veera Somkwamkid, from the People’s Network Against Corruption, says he is looking into the property’s land rights and will pass his findings to the Department of Special Investigations.

For his part, the Labour Minister, Somsak Thepsuthin, says he doesn’t know if the property has been legally built, saying it’s up to the DSI to investigate and that a complaint does not need to be filed in order for them to do so.

Meanwhile, review site Tripadvisor has had to suspend reviews for the Sri Panwa resort, as anti-government netizens exact their revenge on the proprietor by posting negative feedback on the property.

“Due to a recent event that has attracted media attention and has caused an influx of review submissions that do not describe a first-hand experience, we have temporarily suspended publishing new reviews for this listing.”

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chachoengsao join UNESCO’s learning cities

Caitlin Ashworth



Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chachoengsao join UNESCO’s learning cities | The Thaiger

3 cities in Thailand recently joined UNESCO’s membership of so called “learning cities” which are said to promote “lifelong learning” and sustainable development. Chachoengsao, Chiang Mai and Phuket joined the UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities. Altogether, 55 cities from 27 countries, adding up to 230 cities in 64 countries around the world, according to UNESCO.

“These cities are outstanding examples of how lifelong learning can become a reality at local level. They have proven that effective lifelong learning policies and practices can support the development of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and contribute to the 2030 Agenda.”

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning David Atchoarena says the recent new members have shown that they can make “lifelong learning a reality,” even after enduring the pandemic.

“With unprecedented urgency, the Covid-19-19 pandemic has underlined the necessity to build more resilient education systems for the future. With more than half of humanity living in urban areas, cities must be at the centre of this undertaking.”

David says he hopes it will inspire other cities in Thailand to follow.

“I very much hope that we will see many other cities from Thailand joining the network and working on providing lifelong learning opportunities for all to ensure a sustainable and peaceful future.”

The mayor of Chachoengsao, Kolayuth Chaisang, says his goal is to provide “effective education, thoroughly and equally to all citizens.” According to the Bangkok Post, the city is a key urban centre both economically and culturally.

The mayor of Chiang Mai, Tussanai Buranupakorn, says he wants to revitalise the city, while also maintaining the cultural significance. The city has a number of educational institutes, which goes along with UNESCO’s learning city principles.

Phuket is a hub of sustainable creativity, according to the Bangkok Post. The mayor of Phuket, Somjai Suwansupana, says he wants to preserve the city’s “identity, local wisdom assets and the charm of our multiculturalism.”


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