Pattaya Daily News

16 April 2008 :: 13:04:03 pm 21829

Gay Hiv/Aids Rates Rocket As Government Becomes More Complacent

Recent research indicates that HIV infection rates among MSM (men who have sex with men)?- gays and bisexuals in Thailand have reached unprecedented levels. There has been a 3% increase in two years. From 28% in 2005, the figure has now dramatically increases to marginally less than 31% in 2007.
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On April 15, 2008 — The Thai Ministry of Public Health released findings to indicate the leap in infection rates among the MSM group. However, it is indicative of the low priority placed on prevention and cure in the gay community by the authorities that little publicity was given to this dramatic rise in the Thai media.

Lack of government funding

The gay community has consistently suffered from lack of governmental funding and specific research, leaving the impetus up to NGOs and gay associations. These groups have organized publicity and funding drives, such as the prominent gay pride festivals and other events in Phuket, Bangkok and Pattaya. Pattaya Gay Festival (PGF), for example, organizes an annual festival on December 1st to coincide with World Aids Day. PGF over 7 years has raised over Bt22 million to aid charities and help fund privately run HIV/AIDS clinics, one in particular Heartt 2000 (Help Ensure Aids Rescue In Thailand Together) run by the philanthropic French Doctor Philippe Seur, responsible for tending patients in need. Doctor Philippe has been successful in treating and acquiring anti-viral medications for hundreds of patients, who otherwise might well have died. However, despite the sterling efforts of such NGOs, with insufficient governmental support, Thai gays have essentially been left to sink or swim; and they’re sinking.

Prejudice

Although the public image of Thailand is one of tolerance, in practice, certainly as far as homosexuals and katoeys (transsexuals) are concerned, this is not generally the case. This group has suffered from public prejudice and governmental discrimination. In 2004, a Culture Ministry Deputy castigated them as being an abnormal influences and in 2007, their rights, especially regarding protection, were put in jeopardy by drafters of the new constitution who apparently resented their inclusion, declaring that they would “make Thai society weak.” More significantly, under the Thaksin-initiated Moral Order campaign, legal businesses were raided and punitive measures imposed, such as arrest and closure in the event that condoms ? the gay community’s most effective counter measure against HIV – were found on the premises.

When Thailand made unprecedented efforts to reduce HIV-AIDS twenty years ago, it was largely left up to the NGOs and private organizations to promote safe sex. Swing, for example opened a drop-in centre to educate gay sex-workers in South Pattaya, with the message clear in Thai and English on the walls – No condoms, no sex. While Groups like The White Line Dance Troupe toured both the straight and gay scenes to spread the safe sex message to the larger society.

Future threat

The sterling efforts of the Thai government, largely in the straight sector, dramatically reduced the incidence of HIV-AIDS, which had peaked at 143,000 in 1991, and the annual number of new cases of HIV infection fell to 19,000 in 2003, still leaving 604,000 Thais living with HIV or AIDS. However, thegeneral public of all inclinations have now become complacent. Mechai Viravaidya, (a.k.a. Mr. Condom), a senator and the principle architect of Thailand’s successful anti-AIDS program of the 1990s stated “People think because they can’t see HIV anymore that we have it kicked, and they are taking risks again.” However, Following the Asia-wide economic meltdown of 1997, successive Thai governments have radically reduced budgets for prevention programs to less than half their 1997 levels. Condom funding is down, education programs in schools have finished, and the media campaign has virtually disappeared

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Collaboration (TUC) showed HIV prevalence of 17.3% among MSM in Bangkok in 2003, now that figure has rocketed to almost 34%. In April, the Commission on AIDS in Asia reported that MSM infection rates in Asia general are projected to reach 68% by the end of the next decade.

Without the political will at the highest levels of government, the prospect, especially for gay sufferers looks really grim.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : Health

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