Thai AIDS Fight Brings New Problems

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It may surprise some of you out there, but Thailand remains a leader in the battle against the HIV transmission. While the country lost its share of citizens at the beginning of the global scourge, the 1990s ushered in a unwavering public prevention campaign. Further, the country has become a model for the distribution of cheap anti-viral drugs to infected parties.

As a result of these steps, more and more denizens of the Asian nation are living with AIDS. While this undoubtedly comes as good news, as with so many things in this world, drawbacks remain. One major problem is that despite all the country’s progress, an enormous cloud of stigma still hangs above HIV-positive people. Thus, people who have been abandoned by their families have turned a temple that once acted as a hospice into a provisional homeless shelter. Seth Mydans of The International Herald Tribune writes:

Illustrating what experts say could be one of the next challenges as low- cost treatments spread around the world, the AIDS temple and a small satellite village have become, in effect, a new sort of leper colony.

“This is our new problem,” said the temple’s abbot, Alongkot Dikkapanyo, 53, who founded the hospice 14 years ago. “What should we do with a healthy person who is rejected by their family and can’t work? This will be a big burden on society in the future.”

As activists struggle to find appropriate housing for AIDS surivors, the success of earlier campaigns may be backfiring. It seems that public health campaigns have been so triumphant that it’s muted the dire nature of the epidemic. Mydans continues:

Thailand’s successes in both prevention and treatment have brought with them another, perhaps predictable problem: the loss of a sense of urgency that has caused a slackening of prevention campaigns and the beginnings of a rise in new infections.

In addition, experts say about 5 percent of drug recipients each year will develop a resistance and need to switch to much more expensive “second line” drug treatments, which are covered by patents and will strain the government’s budget for cheap medications.

While Thai activists struggle to surmount these new obstacles, may we offer a suggestion: perhaps drug companies can stop trying to make a profit on AIDS and distribute drugs out of the goodness of their hearts. Radical, yes, but crazy enough to work…

We ask you, our beloved readers, what’s your take?