Bangkok: Thai authorities are raising awareness about HIV and encourage testing among gay men and transgender people by embarking on new and novel campaigns that include bare-chested male models in a glitzy ballroom dancing to house music while dozens of young gay men get their blood tested.
The party for gay men called TestBKK is one of the campaigns to counter the rapid spread of HIV among gay men, transgender people over the past decade, a situation which experts say has reached epidemic levels, according to Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Thailand, which successfully tackled HIV/AIDS in the 1990s, has largely failed to keep up with the spread of the virus in certain key communities. It was only in the past year that Thai authorities have started to take this seriously and focus on HIV within the gay community.
In March last year it released guidelines on how to prevent the spread of HIV among men and transgender people, an initiative that came nearly 30 years after the first AIDS case was diagnosed in a gay Thai man.
“It’s a little late, but it’s better than never,” Frits van Griensven, a HIV researcher and adviser to the Thai Red Cross told reuters.com.
This month Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health has also began offering free drugs to all HIV patients irrespective of their CD4 count. The ministry’s move was a drastic change in national policy when it announced that patients in Thailand would not have to wait to receive anti-retroviral drugs till when their CD4 count was less than 350, a standard measurement by which the HIV virus begins to critically destroy the immunity system and make a person vulnerable to opportunistic infections.
Thailand has about 450,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, but only 353,000 have access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs. About one-third of the country’s gay community which officially numbers about 560,000 is estimated to be affected by HIV.
Van Griensven is of the opinion that the real number of gay men in the country is grossly understated and may account for at least 7.5 percent of the 66 million population.
According to the lasted report released by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health, the HIV prevalence among the gay population in Thailand has risen sharply, from 17 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2011.
Bangkok Rainbow Organization, a community based NGO supporting LGBT well-being in Bangkok told GayAsiaNews,com that 31.1% of the estimated 260,000 gay and transgender men and women in the Thai capital are infected with HIV/AIDS.
Piyathida Smutraprapoot, AIDS chief for the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority if people know their status, they can learn how to prevent the spread to others, she told Thomson Reuters Foundation at the TestBKK event that attracted about 100 people.