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Increase in AIDS Cases in Thailand Prompts Action by Civic Groups


Thailand's Health Ministry has warned the country faces up to 12,000 people becoming infected with the AIDS virus in 2009, with the most vulnerable being women and homosexual men. Concern comes as a Thai civic group looks to raise awareness among police officers as the group works with male sex workers.

On the streets of Bangkok's red light and entertainment district of Patpong efforts to raise awareness among sex workers are on-going.

Surang Janyam, is director of a civic group, SWING, which works with male sex workers in Bangkok and at the seaside beach resort township of Pattaya. SWING, in its prevention measures, distributes condoms to male sex workers. But Surang says often the sex workers face police harassment. "Many times we saw that sex workers have a problem when they have a condom - that's because that means they are a sex worker and in Thailand the sex worker is illegal and then the sex worker will get arrested from the police," the civic group director said.

Instead, the civic group turned to the police, initially by discussions with local police stations but later through a training and awareness raising program with Thai Police cadets. For three weeks in their final year several cadets work with the group's staff. "The police cadets have to do the same as the SWING staff - they have to go to educate the sex workers who are working on the street who are working in the bar and give the condom and try to make them understand to take care of themselves and save themselves," Surong said.

The cadets then return to the police academy where they report to other class members. Sub Lieutenant Natcharapol Sinviriyanon, says the experience with the civic work has helped him in his future work as a police officer.

He said the message he told his friends in the cadet school; was that everybody is human, even sex workers. He said even if they are selling sex they are human. He said when he becomes a policeman, he will understand more that sex workers are human.

The Thai Health Ministry, in its latest forecast, ranks male and female sex workers among the highest risk groups from contracting the virus that leads to AIDS.

This week the Health Ministry projected as many as 12,000 people will become infected with the AIDS virus in 2009. Currently Thailand has more than 516,000 adults living with HIV/Aids. Thailand's death toll from AIDs is more than 613,000.

Thailand United Nations AIDS Country Coordinator, Patrick Benny, says while the forecast of 12,000 is much lower than the 120,000 new infections Thailand was reporting each year a decade ago, trends do point to a rising incidence within key vulnerable groups. "Those numbers, particularly in most at risk populations in this country - sex workers, both male and female, injecting drug users - there are indications that rates of infections are actually rising on an annual basis, in those particular groups, even though the numbers overall may continue to be moving downward," he said.

Benny says a special concern is the rising numbers of women becoming infected mostly by their male partners bringing the infection home to their female partner.

But he says policy makers recognize more needs to be done through funding from the government and United Nations to improve public education and awareness.

Thailand plans to further reduce the numbers of new victims of AIDS, provide unrestricted access to antiviral drugs and treatment and access to social welfare for over 80 per cent of people living with HIV/Aids and their families.

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