Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Thailand suffers under AIDS burden

AFP , BANGKOK

As one of the first Asian nations to be hit with HIV-AIDS, Thailand is now struggling to bear the burden of caring for hundreds of thousands of dying victims and the families they leave behind.

Despite winning plaudits for its successful campaign to curb the spread of the virus, Thailand is stretched to the limit treating people infected a decade ago when the crisis was at its height.

Its problems are a sobering tale for countries like India and China who are accused of failing to do enough to halt HIV and where transmission rates are still rising.

"It's definitely a burden having so many people with HIV," said Pawana Wienrawee of activist group Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH).

The new national health care system which entitles Thais to pay just 30 baht (US$0.75) for medical treatment is already facing massive funding problems, which will only worsen as more HIV-infected people develop full-blown AIDS.

"The whole health care system is already in trouble with the universal coverage that was just introduced," said Pawana.

"A few years ago it was estimated that only one third of infected people knew they were HIV positive ... and as they identify more people, more and more will need treatment."

HIV-AIDS is also wreaking havoc in poor rural communities where many households have been left with only the elderly and the young, and no breadwinner to provide for them.

According to UN figures, from a population of 63 million at least 289,000 Thai children have lost one or both parents to AIDS and 21,000 children are infected themselves.

Richard Bridle, regional deputy director for the UN Children's Fund, said Asia was poorly prepared to look after its AIDS orphans and had so far followed the "horrible" Western model of institutionalizing them.

"You've seen the kind of impact there is in Africa of kids living without both parents or any adult care at all," he said. "We do need to prepare for some potentially horrific scenarios."

Some one million Thais have been infected with HIV-AIDS over the past 20 years and more than a third of them have died, leaving the kingdom with an epidemic second only to India in the region in terms of sheer numbers.

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