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Wed, May 24, 2006 : Last updated 21:19 pm (Thai local time)



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Home > National > HIV prevention forgotten, 'now verging on crisis'





AIDS EXPERTS
HIV prevention forgotten, 'now verging on crisis'

Migrants' infection rates a key concern; PM has done nothing, Mechai complains

Thailand's HIV/Aids prevention programme has gone into hibernation and the general population is paying for it, experts on the disease and its spread said yesterday.

Describing the situation as a crisis, they warned that migrant workers were helping to spread the disease faster.

HIV prevention and family-planning

pioneer Mechai Viravaidya said without prevention mechanisms in place for predominantly poor and uneducated migrant workers the disease would continue to spread among the population.

Recent random surveys showed HIV in-

fection rates among migrant workers was

twice that of pregnant Thai women, said Dr Petchsri Sirinirund, an HIV/Aids expert with

the Public Health Ministry's Disease Control Department.

And the migrant workers were not only

having sex among themselves, but with Thai people as well, said Mechai.

He said the migrant workers' high mobility also helped spread the disease.

Citing official statistics, Petchsri said there were about two million migrant workers living in Thailand and only about 700,000 were registered with labour authorities.

"Thailand's acclaimed achievements in HIV prevention are history. In the past three years people working in the field have realised the epidemic is back," said Mechai.

Condom use among young people has dropped to only 20 per cent from about 70

per cent.

The rate of other sexually transmitted diseases among young people is up 30 per cent,

but official figures show Thailand has lower

rates of new HIV infection, he said.

"How on earth could this be? I have the feeling the figures have been window-dressed to satisfy the government," said Mechai.

"None of what [caretaker] Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra promised to do about HIV/Aids at the International Aids Conference in Bangkok in 2004 has been done so far," he said.

HIV/Aids education for intravenous drug users, universal coverage of life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, plus merit-based treatment for migrant workers and stepped-up efforts towards preventing HIV were among measures Thaksin said would be introduced, but they have never been brought into action, said Mechai.

With concerns about cross-border HIV/Aids problems throughout the region, the Canada-South East Asia Regional HIV/Aids Programme, has pledged to help support four countries - Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam - tackle the problem.

In Thailand, the demonstration programme in HIV prevention among migrant worker populations will be carried out in three provinces, Trat, Mukdahan and Sa Kaew.

"Every US$1 [Bt38] spent on HIV prevention helps save $43 in HIV/Aids treatment," said Mechai.

Last year, the World Bank released a re-

port saying Thailand's HIV-prevention programme from 1991 to 2004 helped save the

lives of as many as seven million Thais and

HIV treatment expenses of as much as $18.4 million.

The next national Aids plan, beginning next year, will primarily focus on HIV prevention, said Petchsri.

Arthit Khwankhom

The Nation








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