Expanding Free, Anonymous HIV/AIDS Testing and Treatment Essential to Save Many Lives in Bangkok

May 19, 2015

BANGKOK, May 19, 2015 - There is an HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Bangkok. Increasing the availability and use of free and anonymous testing and treatment of HIV infection among all at-risk groups, especially MSM, can stem the epidemic and cut the number of HIV-related deaths in half over the next 10 years, according to a new study Scaling up HIV Treatment for MSM in Bangkok: What Does it Take?

HIV intervention programs in Thailand have effectively targeted female sex workers and their clients.  However, the national response to HIV among MSM has been largely limited. As a consequence the share of HIV positive men in the MSM community has remained high and has been increasing. In metropolitan Bangkok, it is estimated to have increased from 21 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2012 among the 120,000 - 250,000 MSM in the city.

The new study recommends affordable public health strategies to halve HIV-related deaths and the rate of new infections by 2022. The study—produced by the World Bank in close cooperation with the Thai Red Cross, Ministry of Public Health, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and UNAIDS—urges greater use of the free and anonymous testing and treatment services currently available at public health clinics. 

”HIV/AIDS testing and treatment can save lives, maintaining people’s health and preventing new infections,”  said Ulrich Zachau, World Bank Country Director for Southeast Asia. "With testing and treatment available for free at many public and community-based clinics, Thailand can slow, even stop, Bangkok’s HIV epidemic, among men who have sex with men and other groups. The time to act is now.”

The report finds that while there is limited use of HIV testing services among MSM in Bangkok, there are enough clinics and health personnel available to support testing and treatment for all MSM who need it. Only one-fifth of treatment-eligible MSM are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) medicines, despite their availability free of charge.

The report suggests that by utilizing this spare capacity at existing facilities, about 43,000 more MSM could be tested for HIV and 5,100 could then receive ART services by 2022. This would increase the percentage of MSM in Bangkok receiving ART from 20 percent to 44 percent by 2022, without increasing the current level of investment in HIV services. With additional investment of $55.3 million over the next decade, Bangkok could achieve universal treatment coverage within the same period by reaching additional 12,600 MSM with ART services.

“The faster people get tested for HIV, the faster they can get treated and live normal lives,” said Dr. Sumet Ongwandee, Director Bureau of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Sexual Transmitted Infections, Ministry of Public Health.“Once you know your status, HIV/AIDS is like any other chronic disease where you can take medicine every day and learn how to be healthy again.”

The report cites examples of initiatives that have been used to successfully increase testing at public facilities, including creating a patient-friendly environment to encourage testing and follow-up; BMA’s Gay BKK website promoting safe sex and HIV testing among MSM and its weekly night mobile clinics at Bangkok venues frequented by MSM; and convenient drop-in testing centers in major MSM hotspots in Bangkok.

“Advancing efforts to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030 requires a combination approach to HIV prevention that includes biomedical, behavior change and structural approaches,” said David Wilson, Director of the World Bank’s Global HIV/AIDS Program. “With its quality medical infrastructure, Bangkok now has the opportunity to prevent more than 5,000 needless deaths, to halve new infections by 2022, and to serve as a model for other cities.”

The study was authored by researchers from the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales, the Thai Red Cross, and the World Bank. A version of this study was published in The Lancet Journal March 29, 2015

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