WORLD AIDS DAY is coming. Observed across the globe on December 1 since 1988, this day is dedicated to raising and uniting efforts in the fight against Aids.
From an international perspective, the world is on track to ending the Aids epidemic by 2030. Already 15 million people are accessing life-saving HIV treatments. New HIV infections have been reduced by 35 per cent since 2000 and Aids-related deaths are down by 42 per cent since the peak in 2004, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAIDS).
Has Thailand made significant progress for its part?
The upcoming World Aids Day provides a perfect opportunity for Thailand to reflect on its success and what it still lacks in handling Aids issues.
At present, Thailand’s three major healthcare schemes offer free anti-retroviral drugs to HIV-positive people. With such treatment, an HIV-positive victim can stay relatively healthy and live a normal life.
The earliest they begin taking anti-retroviral drugs, the better.
To ensure HIV-positive patients can get these anti-retroviral drugs rapidly, the government provides free blood tests for HIV patients twice a year.
Campaigns have also been widely conducted to make the public understand more about this deadly disease.
A survey conducted by the Disease Control Department in August showed the percentage of blood-test requirements during the recruitment process had dropped.
Yet, a man living with HIV revealed the other day that he had to constantly change jobs to avoid the annual blood tests required by many firms. He said the test results are often sent not only to employees, but also to employers.
Many people living with HIV have also lamented the fact that have been forced to quit their jobs as soon as their employers found out about their health status.
One young woman, who contracted HIV from her parents, said she had never disclosed her health status to her employer, her friends or even her sweetheart.
A 2015 survey by the Disease Control Department showed that nearly half the population of Thailand still feared, discriminated against or held averse feelings towards people living with HIV/Aids. The survey covered 3,024 people, aged 15 years and up, in Bangkok and 23 other provinces.
Nearly 29 per cent of respondents said they would not tell their family if they became infected with HIV, an increase from 9.1 per cent in the 2014 survey.
In addition, 80.4 per cent of respondents in the 2015 survey said they did not know everyone had the right to free anti-retroviral drugs if they were living with HIV.
Jarunee Siriphan, deputy-director of Aids Rights Thailand, said the findings revealed many people still did not have correct knowledge of or an understanding of HIV.
On October 6, a popular TV series caused uproar among people living with HIV/Aids after it was claimed the production team portrayed the conditions of Aids inaccurately.
The series showed a character purportedly suffering from Aids with serious blisters and awful wounds at the time of death. Such a portrayal, Aids activists said, would only distort the public perception of HIV and Aids.
HIV is a virus that causes immunodeficiency syndrome. Though infected, the HIV positive effects might not show any symptoms. People living with Aids only require treatment when their immune system becomes weakened and opportunistic infections attack. Their symptoms vary, depending on which diseases hit them. Many of these diseases can be cured. With proper treatment, patients can recover fully from the symptoms and become simply HIV positive.
The wrong portrayal of an Aids patient can spur public sentiment against people living with HIV/Aids. At the same time, it may also mislead an audience into believing people who do not show ugly blisters are free from HIV and unprotected sex with them is fine.
Aids activists and networks campaigning for the rights of people living with Aids/HIV have urged the authorities to distribute the correct information.
Only when the public is well informed about Aids and HIV, can HIV prevention and stigmatisation truly end.
Let’s reinvigorate efforts in the fight against Aids.
Together, as the UNAIDS has pointed out, we have what it takes to break the Aids epidemic.