Thai Government Failing To Prevent, Treat HIV/AIDS Among Injection Drug Users

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The Thai government'sfailure to effectively address HIV/AIDS among injection drug users in thecountry is undermining its position as a leader in the fight against thedisease, according to a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch and the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. According to the groups,IDUs were the first group in Thailandto be affected by HIV, and HIV prevalence among IDUs has been between 40% and60% during the last 20 years (Streib, AP/International Herald Tribune,11/29).



The 57-page report --titled "Deadly Denial: Barriers to HIV/AIDS Treatment for People Who UseDrugs in Thailand" -- found that routine police harassment and arrest"keeps drug users from receiving lifesaving HIV information and servicesthat Thailand has pledged to provide," according to a HRW release (HRWrelease, 11/29). The government between 2003 and 2004 launched a campaignagainst the illegal drug trade that led to the deaths of thousands of allegeddealers in the country, the AP/Herald Tribune reports.

The report also found that antiretroviral treatment often is denied toHIV-positive people based on their status as drug users. It noted that HIVtreatment programs sometimes presume that IDUs are incapable of followingthrough with their antiretroviral regimens and refuse to refer them fortreatment. In addition, the report said that the Thai government has failed toeffectively promote harm-reduction techniques -- such as the provision ofno-cost, clean needles to IDUs -- to help reduce the spread of HIV. About 1% ofIDUs received harm-reduction services, according to a July 2006 USAID study.Under Thai law, sale and possession of clean syringes is legal, but authoritiesin some cases have considered their possession as a basis for drug charges, thereport said (AP/International Herald Tribune, 11/29).

"Thailand wants to be seen as a success story in the fight against AIDS,yet it is failing to address the epidemic among the population hit hardest byHIV," Rebecca Schleifer, an advocate with the HIV/AIDS and Human RightsProgram at HRW, said. Paisan Suwannawong, director of ThaiTAG, added thatThailand "must stop discrimination against drug users seeking health careservices, or it will never meet its promise to ensure access to AIDS treatment to all who need it"(HRW release, 11/29).

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