By Katie Rees and Sara Mollner
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that causes the destruction of the body’s immune system by infecting the body’s normal white blood cell replication process. The process of the virus destroying the body’s immune system allow for other infections and cancers to develop and grow. If left untreated, HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is end stage and fatal. For the virus to become categorized as AIDS there needs to be the development of respiratory infections such as pneumonia, cancer such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma, and muscle wasting or weight loss or other opportunistic infection development. Mortality from the virus usually is a result from such secondary infections. The virus can be spread from sexual contact, blood, and breast milk (UNAIDs, 2018, p. 2.)
While HIV used to be a fatal diagnosis in the 1980’s due to little treatment and knowledge about the disease, that is no longer the case. Over the past two decades, major global efforts have been mounted to address the epidemic and significant progress has been made. The number of people newly infected with HIV, especially children, and the number of AIDS-related deaths has declined over the years, and the number of people with HIV receiving treatment increased in 2017.
The topic of HIV in Thailand is important because it is one of the highest of HIV prevalence in Asia and the Pacific, accounting for 9% of the region’s total population of people living with HIV (Avert, 2018.) Thailand’s HIV epidemic is concentrated among certain key populations. Those most affected are men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and those sharing needles for the use of drugs. Spouses of these populations, migrants and prisoners are also more vulnerable to HIV than others. The prevalence of HIV and HIV related deaths are on the decline in Thailand due to successful prevention and outreach programs. From 2005 – 2016 HIV related deaths dropped by almost two-thirds (Avert, 2018.)
Thailand has one of the steepest drops of HIV transmissions in the Asia and Pacific region, which is largely related to their prevention and outreach programs. These programs include: free condoms nationwide, HIV education with more comprehensive sex education courses, preventing mother-to-child transmission, harm reduction and PrEP (Loleka, 2016, p. 1.) Thailand also provides free antiretroviral treatment as part of the country’s universal health care insurance.
While Thailand is making successful strides toward lowering the HIV epidemic, there are some notable barriers to treatment. Some barriers include HIV stigma and prejudice, structural and resource barriers and adherence, and education toward the younger population. While HIV has greatly reduced in sex workers due to condom distribution, but barriers still exist with drug use and stigma toward the LGBTQ community. Thailand is a beautiful, resourceful place that will continue to try and do what is right to end this merciless epidemic and preserve the value that is human life and dignity.
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