Despite the Thai government’s success in controlling the HIV epidemic in the 1990s, the virus has continued to spread sharply in risk groups, especially men who have sex with men (MSM). In capital city Bangkok, gays have shown around 30 percent HIV prevalence, up from 17.3 percent in 2003.
A new report released by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says of particular concern are the higher HIV incidence – 12.2 per 100 person-years annually detected in sexually active gays aged 15-21 years – and the uniform syphilis incidence of 3.6 per 100 person-years across all age categories.
The increasing HIV prevalence and incidence in Bangkok is suspected to be due to unprotected anal intercourse, the predominant route of HIV transmission among gay males.
The report is the result of a six-year surveillance by the ministry and the US organization. It ended in 2011.
The data was collected from an HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing center for gays.
“These results show ongoing epidemics of HIV and syphilis infection in MSM in Bangkok, underscoring the urgent need for preventive interventions to reduce the spread of HIV and STI in this population,” the report says.
However, it also warns that the findings have limitations and may not truly represent the Bangkok gay community or may exaggerate HIV and syphilis prevalence and incidence estimates.
IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, assesses the gay population in Bangkok to be between 300,000 and 400,000.
A large number of the commercial sex workers, both men and women, are from emerging economies in Thailand’s neighborhood, like Myanmar and Cambodia.
One of the most attractive tourist destinations in Asia, Thailand is also known to be a hub of sex tourism and a magnet for pedophiles.
Though the Thai government has been addressing the HIV challenge, gay males however remain a neglected society for medical care. In 2009, less than 1 percent of HIV prevention resources were earmarked for them.
In 2011, after the spike in HIV infections was detected, allocations increased to 8 percent.
After the alarming disclosure last year that gays accounted for 41 percent of all new HIV infections in 2012, the concerned National AIDS Management Center made MSM interventions the top priority.
However, external donors still fund 90 percent of HIV prevention services for gays and other at-risk groups and NGOs and community-based groups run them, IRIN reported, quoting government officials.
Nikorn Chimkong, president of the HIV Foundation Thailand, told the agency the mushrooming of casual sex websites and cheap night bars which lured in young men and allowed sex has contributed to the growth of the epidemic.