By Sakuya Oka
Special to The Nation
This Sunday, Anan Muangmoonchai will slip on his running shoes and join thousands of other runners in the Bangkok 10km International Run.
“It’s important for me to be out there because this is the first run in Thailand dedicated to reducing HIV-related stigma,” said Anan. “It’s a good opportunity to promote public awareness that people who are living with HIV are healthy and can live and work with other people.”
Anan heads the Thai Network of People Living with HIV, which has joined hands with the Public Health Ministry, UNAIDS and the Amazing Field to organise the run. A percentage of the proceeds will go to initiatives aimed at reducing HIV-related stigma.
“More than 30 years since HIV was detected in Thailand, stigma still remains a major challenge,” said Panumard Yarnwaidsakul, deputy director-general of the Public Health Ministry’s Department of Disease Control. “As we join together in this solidarity run we publicly commit to zero discrimination as a norm for everyone.”
Thailand has made huge progress fighting its Aids epidemic but recent a survey of health workers finds many still have stigmatising attitudes towards people living with HIV. Meanwhile a 2009 survey of people living with HIV in Thailand found more than a quarter of respondents avoided going to a local clinic when needed because of their HIV status.
Anan learnt he was HIV positive in 2001 and he was lucky as his family was very supportive from the very beginning. However, he realises many of his peers are not so fortunate.
“For many years HIV was a very scary disease. I know of cases where people were too frightened to even get an HIV test because they were afraid of the result. Unfortunately, they ended up dying because they accessed HIV treatment too late,” said Anan.
Since 2002, Thailand has integrated HIV services into its universal health coverage schemes and now antiretroviral treatment is offered to everyone living with HIV.
“Eliminating HIV-related stigma and discrimination is key to ensuring we end the Aids epidemic as a public health threat by 2030,” said Tatiana Shoumilina, UNAIDS director for Thailand. “Too many Aids events are aimed at a narrow audience of people who already know our issues. What’s so great about this run is that we can reach out to many people who may have little knowledge about HIV.”
So far around 6,000 people have registered for the run. With 10 km and 4.5 km courses, the mini-marathon’s start and finish lines are in front of the United Nations Building in Bangkok.
“Sports is a great platform for educating the public and we believe that the private sector can play a big role in ensuring Thailand has a healthy society where everyone’s rights are respected,” said Songkram Kraisonthi, CEO of Amazing Field.
Anan is planning to participate in the 4.5km run. “I am going to try my best. I hope I will make it to the finish line.”
Sakuya Oka is a spokesperson for UNAIDS.