BANGKOK — Tina Middleton contracted HIV when she was 20 years old from a partner with hemophilia. Her partner had not known that he was infected until Middleton became pregnant and subsequently got tested.
Middleton’s life changed drastically socially, physically and mentally after contracting the disease. Friends treated her differently, she thought of herself differently for a long time and she encountered physical challenges that characterize the struggle of having HIV/AIDS in Thailand.
“After a couple of years, I found I was resistant to most of the drugs I was taking. Last year, I decided to have a treatment break, which was originally supposed to be three months but ended up being six months. During that time, I became ill with bronchitis and […] pneumonia. […] My energy levels can be low and I have had continued problems with breathing.”
The Truth about HIV/AIDs in Thailand
Middleton is only one of millions of individuals worldwide that HIV/AIDS has and continues to affect. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that there were about 36.9 million people across the globe living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2014, two million of which were newly infected that year.
Asia and the Pacific hold the second largest number of these individuals, with Thailand accounting for nine percent of them. In 2013, there were 440,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand. Out of these people, 14,000 died. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) found that HIV/AIDS is responsible for 4.4 percent the country’s deaths.
HIV/AIDS affects various groups of people in Thailand. The people affected at the highest rates include men who have sex with men (MSM), male sex workers (MSW), female sex workers (FSW), transgender people, people who inject drugs (PWID), people between the ages of 15 to 24 and newborns.
Progress is Happening
There has been great progress in the fight to end HIV/AIDS in Thailand. This is exemplified by Thailand’s becoming the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to reduce mother-to-child-transmission (MTCT) to less than two percent in 2016. The use of antiretroviral medicine as treatment reduced the chance of the baby inheriting HIV/AIDS from 15 to 45 percent to one percent.
Although this accomplishment signifies that HIV/AIDS in Thailand can be defeated, there is still a long way to go. It was found that 90 percent of new adult HIV infections in Thailand are transmitted via unprotected sex.
A Strategic Approach
Through its 100 percent condom campaign in brothels, Thailand was able to reduce HIV infections among sex workers, but there has been less success with intravenous drug users and male homosexuals. IHME reported that there were “no intervention efforts directed” at drug users and that HIV/AIDS prevalence among homosexuals in Bangkok rose from 17 percent in 2003 to 30 percent in 2011.
Additionally, with today’s social media advancements, it is easier for young people to arrange meet-ups without leaving their homes. This makes it more difficult to reach out to these people about HIV/AIDS issues. Many young people also seem to perceive HIV/AIDS as something that only affects the older generation due to the successes in tackling it, leading them to not take the precautions they should when meeting up with a sexual partner.
In an attempt to give young people incentive to get HIV/AIDS testing, the Thai Medical Council Regulations started to allow adolescents to be tested without parental consent in 2012. The only catch is that counseling must be provided.
Nearly putting an end to MTCT is a great accomplishment in the fight to end HIV/AIDS in Thailand, but further progression is required in order to keep more stories like Tina Middleton’s from developing.
– Alice Gottesman
Photo: Grasshopper Adventures