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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Asia | THAILAND: Activists want rights of HIV-positive people protected | Care Treatment | DFID
Tuesday 15 August 2006
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THAILAND: Activists want rights of HIV-positive people protected

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  World Bank

AIDS activists in Bangkok

BANGKOK, 10 August (PLUSNEWS) - Thailand's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) wants the government to pass a bill that will protect the rights of the estimated 560,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.

Thailand's reform-orientated constitution – adopted in 1997 - said that Thai citizens would enjoy equal rights and protection under the law regardless of sex, origin or religion.

But Pradit Chareonthaitawee, a member of the NHRC and a medical doctor, said that Thais living with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination and needed specific legislation to safeguard their rights.

"We want to protect this group of people," Chareonthaitawee said.

Thailand's well-funded, politically supported and comprehensive prevention programmes have saved millions of lives, reducing the number of new HIV infections from 140,000 in 1991 to around 20,000 in 2005.

Nonetheless, more than one-in-100 Thai adults in this country of 65 million people are living with HIV, and AIDS has become a leading cause of death. An estimated 21,000 people died of AIDS-related illness in 2005.

Cuts in prevention and education programmes are likely to drive the number of new infections back up, experts say.

"Public information, which was once ubiquitous, has dropped off the radar screen," Patrick Brenny, Country Coordinator of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Thailand, said in May. "There is a strong recognition that prevention programming needs to be ramped up."

The proposed legislation would ban mandatory HIV tests, which were often required as a part of a job application. Private companies, state agencies and universities have asked applicants to be tested, with many failing to keep the results confidential.

"Factories, schools, higher education institutions and the military all discriminate," Chareonthaitawee said. "Even if you are applying for a job at the Supreme Court or Attorney-General's office, they have a blood test and they will not allow anyone to be admitted if they are positive for HIV."

Thailand has not had a great deal of success in reducing HIV among vulnerable groups like injecting drug users, according to the international AIDS NGO, Avert. Infection rates among IDUs have remained extremely high, at 35-50 percent, and are still rising in some areas.

The expanding heroin trade in Southeast Asia's 'Golden Triangle' – one of the world's largest source of illicitly grown pure heroin – means IDUs in Thailand number anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 according to available estimates.

Chareonthaitawee said NHRC had taken up the cause because the country's National AIDS Committee had rejected pleas from UNAIDS for such legislation.

The commission had been working with the Justice Ministry to draft the law after studying legislation in Australia, the Philippines and Cambodia.

But it was unlikely the law would get a swift passage. Thailand is suffering a prolonged political crisis that has left it without a sitting parliament to consider legislation since February.

Fresh parliamentary elections were not expected to at least October, meaning new bills could not be considered before early next year.

Chareonthaitawee said that even if the bill was passed it would take far more than a new law to change deeply-held social attitudes about HIV-positive people.

Many Thais do not understand how the virus spreads, compounding the problem. For example, some rural temples refuse to cremate the bodies of AIDS victims, fearing cremation will spread the virus.

"We realise that the bill will not be effective without cultural education, sex education and good understanding by the public of the epidemic of HIV and AIDS," Chareonthaitawee said.


Recent THAILAND Reports
Increased HIV/AIDS awareness needed - UNAIDS,  7/Jun/06
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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