BANGKOK – Thailand is at the forefront of efforts to tackle the spread of HIV in the region, as people around the globe marked World AIDS Day on Friday.
The kingdom boasts the steepest decline in new HIV infection rates in the Asia-Pacific region, dropping by 50 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to figures provided by the United Nations.
To capitalize on this success, the Ministry of Public Health has launched a long-term “2017-2030 National AIDS Strategy,” with the aim of ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat in Thailand by 2030.
A ministry spokesperson told EFE on Friday that the campaign aims to reduce the rate of new infections to 1,000 per year, and to bring the annual death toll down to 4,000 or less.
At the forefront of this drive is the Anonymous Clinic in Bangkok, founded by the Thai Red Cross in 1991, the first voluntary counseling and testing clinic in Asia.
The center was also the first of its kind to be exempt from revealing the names of patients with HIV to the government, which encouraged people to seek treatment despite social pressures or taboos.
Because research into the illness has yet to find a cure, the clinic’s mission, in addition to protecting patients’ identities, is to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with the virus.
Accordingly, the Thai Red Cross believes that its most effective tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS is raising people’s awareness of the disease and promoting safe sex and self-protection.
The strategy has yielded spectacular results: the number of people with HIV in Thailand has dropped dramatically, from an annual average of 100,000-150,000 to 60,000-80,000.
The first case of HIV/AIDS in Thailand was recorded in 1984, and by July 2000, just under 150,000 people were reported to be suffering from full-blown AIDS.
Some estimates indicated that as many as 1 million people, or 1 out of 60 Thais, were infected with HIV.
Young men aged 20-40 were the worst affected group, with many succumbing to the disease and leaving behind families, which in turn had a significant impact on the country’s economy, according to the Thai Red Cross.
As the world paused Friday to consider the epidemic’s effects, Thailand represents a rare success story and a positive example to other countries in the region struggling to contain the spread of the virus.