21:06 | 25th May 2019

News: World

Mon 6 Oct, 2014
By Robert Ingham

Thailand is now faced with infection rates in its gay population comparable to those in Africa's AIDS hot spots

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Thailand Gay Scene Targeted to Tackle Rise of HIV

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Bare-chested male models strutted through the glitzy ballroom in Bangkok to the beat of house music while dozens of young gay men waited anxiously, working up the nerve to have a blood test.

The mostly female health team taking samples seemed incongruous next to the shirtless models circling the party, but the health workers' presence at the TestBKK event, Thailand's first mass HIV testing for gays, was sending a powerful message.

Over the past decade, HIV has spread rapidly among gay men, transgender people and male sex workers in Bangkok to reach epidemic levels, fuelled partly by greater use of illicit party drugs that make people less cautious about sex, experts said.

Once touted as an HIV success story, Thailand is now faced with infection rates in its gay population comparable to those in Africa's AIDS hot spots.

Waking up to the scale of the problem, Thai authorities have embarked on a campaign to raise awareness about HIV and encourage testing among those most at risk: men who have sex with men and transgender people.

Frits van Griensven, an HIV researcher and adviser to the Thai Red Cross, said the initiative to focus on this key group was a positive step and long-awaited acknowledgement that Thailand - which successfully tackled HIV/AIDS in the 1990s - had failed to keep up with the spread of the virus into certain communities.

"For the government to take a stand in this epidemic and stand up for the rights of a minority population, I thought this was a big move," van Griensven told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview at his home in Bangkok.

He said it was only in the past year that Thai authorities had started to take this seriously and focus on HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) prevention in Thailand's gay community.

Source: Reuters

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