07 December 2008

HIV/AIDS in Thailand

HIV/AIDS is an issue that has been around for quite some time in Thailand. Though it has recently taken a backseat as a result of numerous improvements, it is still an issue which needs a sincere amount of attention. Our group of CIEE students spent the day talking with Thai Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+), where we learned all about their methods of HIV/AIDS education, their company, its goals, and procedures for helping fight a battle against HIV/AIDS.

We learned through readings and discussion with TNP+ that perhaps the largest reason for the spread of HIV/AIDS in Thailand is prostitution. Our group spoke with many members of TNP+ who contracted the disease through intercourse with their spouse. In general, their spouse had cheated and had a sexual relationship with a prostitute who was HIV positive. This is the most common way to contract the disease, with drugs being the second most popular method of contraction. Formerly, in the late 80s, early 90s, it was estimated that about half of all the prostitutes in Chiang Mai were HIV positive. Seeing as many people often have to travel to the cities for work or in order to find work, they will leave their wives for extended periods of time and then “miss their wives” which causes them to seek other means of satisfaction, as we were told by TNP+ members. They then return home to their wives and have sex thus passing on the virus.

Upon hearing this, my first inclination was to think how stupid the men must be to never wear condoms especially when having sex with commercial sex workers who have sex for a living. I then thought twice and realized that the HIV/AIDS education is lacking and the stigmas for those who have HIV/AIDS are horrendous and sweeping incorrect generalizations. The people of Thailand are often completely uneducated or undereducated about HIV/AIDS and believe that it’s safe to have sex without a condom as long as you really love your partner. Although education has gotten better and people are learning, it is still hard to make up for all the years of lack of education and years of people fearing to get close to anyone who is HIV positive.

When you understand the history of HIV/AIDS in Thailand and how far they have come it is not surprising that people do not understand how to interact with people who are living with HIV/AIDS. For example, as we learned from readings and discussions with members of TNP+, the original slogan for HIV/AIDS in Thailand was “If you get AIDS, you will die.” With these messages being distributed by the government, it is all very clear why the people of Thailand would not want to interact with people living with HIV/AIDS. That being said, it is important to see how much Thailand has grown since the time of that slogan. For example, the government sponsored slogan is now “If you get AIDS, you will live” which is a stark contrast to the original. Additionally, the HIV/AIDS awareness has increased and the media has started to advertise safe sex and other positive messages that no longer condemn those with HIV/AIDS, but show that they too, can live a full life.

That being said, there is still a long way to go. With drugs being another big issue in Thailand, there are still more actions that the government could take to secure the future safety and security of the people. For example, needle exchange programs would greatly benefit the people of Thailand. More importantly, however, for those living with HIV/AIDS who contracted the virus through drug use, they are not being allowed access to the appropriate healthcare. In all, Thailand is being remarked as a role model for other developing countries when it comes to the fight against HIV/AIDS for the remarkable progress it has made. Although Thailand does deserve all the credit for the actions taken to fight HIV/AIDS, there is still much to be done as far as eliminating stigmas and providing the appropriate forms of healthcare. There is much to be said for groups like TNP+ however, that spread HIV/AIDS awareness and help those living with HIV/AIDS know and obtain their rights. Indeed groups such as TNP+ have the power to continue the current trend in the right direction providing a hopeful future for Thailand’s HIV/AIDS population.

Suzanne Haggerty - George Washington University

2 comments:

Roger said...

"We learned through readings and discussion with TNP+ that perhaps the largest reason for the spread of HIV/AIDS in Thailand is prostitution"

It would be more appropriate to say "was" prostitution. In the 90s, the government worked hard with brothel owner and instaured a 100% condom use that curbed the epidemics dramatically.

Read the www.avert.org pages on Thailand for background history.

There is room for improving education but most people in Thailand know about AIDS.

Nowadays men who have sex with men are the most vulnerable group and they are ignored by prevention intervention as are drug user.

This is where urgent action is needed as many MSM in Thailand also have sex with women since sexuality is not defined in black and white as it is in the West.

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