Thousands of HIV deaths could be prevented in Thailand

Thailand could prevent more than 5,000 HIV-related deaths in the next decade if the country expanded HIV testing and treatment among homosexual men in Bangkok, where about one in three males who have sex with men is infected, researchers said.

Failing to use condoms

A third of the estimated 185,000 men who have sex with men in the Thai capital fail to use condoms or are involved in other behaviour that puts them at high risk of infection, experts said in a World Bank-sponsored study.

Yet in 2011, only 14,000 of men who have sex with men in Bangkok got tested, and only 30 percent of those diagnosed and eligible for treatment started taking lifesaving antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), the study said.

"We know that antiretroviral treatment works. It keeps people alive, and it also works in reducing the risk of transmission to other people," said David Wilson, an author of the study and associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Read: Causes of HIV/Aids

"It is clear that the number one priority in reducing HIV in this country is to target men who have sex with men with better services so they can access testing and then be linked into treatment," Wilson told journalists at the launch of the report in Bangkok this week.

Often touted as a success story, Thailand tackled its massive Aids epidemic in the 1990s, cutting the estimated number of people infected each year to 8,100 in 2013 from 143,000 in 1991.

However, it has failed to keep up with the spread of the disease among some groups, including gay men and transgender people.

About 44 percent of new infections are in men who have sex with men, and 25 percent to 30 percent of those are likely to occur in Bangkok, the study said, citing official estimates.

Millions needed

The researchers found that a continuation of the current levels of testing and ARV treatment would cost Thailand $74 million between 2012 and 2022.

It would cost an additional $55 million over the same period to expand testing and treatment to 80 percent from 205 in 2012, the study said.

"That's a lot of money, but relatively, it's not that much to get four times the coverage," Wilson said.

Read: Prevention of HIV infection

The extra $55 million would get an additional 47,000 men tested and more than 12,000 linked to ARV treatment, the study said.

This expanded care would avert 5,100 HIV-related deaths and 3,700 new cases in the decade to 2022.

More than 90 hospitals and clinics in Bangkok offer HIV tests, but 75 percent of gay men go to two providers known to offer free anonymous testing and to be gay-friendly: the Thai Red Cross Anonymous Clinic and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention-run Silom Community Clinic, the study said.

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