Ambitious HIV/AIDS Mission Launched

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Source: The Nation

The Public Health Ministry and its allies are implementing many measures to achieve the goals of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero Aids-related deaths.

"For example, we have provided 16 to 30 hours of sex education to students each year. We have also provided friendly services to people in at risk groups including sex workers and homosexual men", Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said yesterday.

The three targets are in line with the guidelines set by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

AIDS patients are now receiving medical treatment at an earlier stage to make it easier to maintain their health. Antiretroviral drugs used to be prescribed only after the CD4 cell count dropped below 200, but now the threshold is 350.

Everyone and their families can get free tests for the immunodeficiency virus twice a year under the universal healthcare, social security and civil service medical care schemes.

The National Health Security Office's budget for free Aids treatment has been boosted to Bt2.99 billion this year from Bt2.7 billion last year.

"We have also provided free treatment to alien workers suffering from Aids," he said.

"To ensure zero discrimination, we don't allow employers to subject their employees to HIV blood tests before recruitment."

About 1.16 million people were estimated to be HIV positive last year, of whom 644,000 have died.

The country sees about 10,850 new HIV infections each year, 33 percent of which are in sexually active homosexual men and 28 percent in housewives contracting the virus from their husbands or regular sex partners.

Men contracting HIV from spouses accounted for about 10 percent of the new infections, while men contracting the virus from sex workers also accounted for 10 percent. Of the new infections 9 percent were found in people who injected drugs and 7 percent in those engaging in casual sex. Sex workers - mostly 15-49 years old - who were infected by male customers were 4 percent.

The ministry will host a national conference on Aids from March 29-31 at Impact Muang Thong Thani with the aim to help prevent the spread of HIV and build public awareness of Aids patients' rights. Some 3,500 people have registered to attend.