Civil society organisations that advocate on behalf of Aids victims and related issues have urged the government to work harder to achieve the goal of wiping out cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids) in the kingdom by 2030.
During a recent media interview, Midnight Poonkasetwattana, executive director of the Asia Pacific Coalition for Male Sex Health (APCOM), said there are currently about 520,000 people living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV) in Thailand, accounting for almost 9% of all cases in the Asia-Pacific region. HIV is the virus that, if left untreated, can lead to Aids.
The number of PLHIV in Thailand is declining as the country has been successful in preventing new cases of HIV infections, reducing them by 52% since 2015, especially among young people aged 15-24 years old. This is in large part due to the government’s healthcare coverage schemes, including pre-exposure prophylaxis and condom campaigns promoting safe sex.
The government also provides two free blood tests a year for Thai people and offers free treatment for those infected with HIV.
But Mr Midnight said that even though the measures look promising, they may not help Thailand to eradicate HIV by 2030, especially as people living with the virus still face huge stigmatisation here, making many reluctant to come forward and seek treatment.
“Many high-risk people decide not to use medical services or even get a blood test because of the stigmatisation they face from medical staff. They can’t tolerate being looked at the wrong way, being gossiped about, or being asked improper questions such as ‘Why or how did you catch this disease?’
“Furthermore, people also question whether the system storing their blood test records is really confidential. They are afraid their records may be leaked,” he said. “Even though the sentiment toward PLHIV is quite positive compared to a few decades ago, many people still suffer from being rejected by their family and friends, or even losing their jobs.”
The government launched another campaign called “Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U)” to inform the public that, with effective treatments, PLHIV cannot pass on HIV to other people. However, this hasn’t ended the stigmatisation, he said, adding that “using Key Population-Led Health Services has allowed us to tackle the problem on point because we know who exactly we need to help”.
Established in 2015, this serves as a model demonstrating how task-sharing can be realised through delivering HIV-related and health services by lay providers who are members of the key community, such as men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender women, sex workers and people who inject drugs.
This model has helped professionals working in health services connect with the hardest-to-reach and at-risk individuals and provide them with the necessary healthcare.