Bangkok Post

The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has raised concerns over the high prevalence rate of these infections among intravenous drug users, despite continuously supporting harm reduction programmes.

The concern was raised during a recent visit by a Global Fund executive to follow the progress of an Aids prevention programme in Thailand.

The Global Fund is expected to send an official letter on the matter to the Public Health Ministry soon, said Petchsri Sirinirand, director of the National Aids Management Centre, yesterday.

About 370 million baht in funding has been granted to the Public Health Ministry and the PSI (Thailand) Foundation between 2010 and 2014 to carry out harm reduction projects, including syringe distribution, methadone maintenance, voluntary counselling and testing, and antiretroviral therapy available in over 20 provinces including Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The aim is to reduce new Aids cases among risk groups.

However, the HIV prevalence rate among intravenous drug users (IDUs) has been as high as 40% over the past two decades and is showing no signs of abating.

The rate was even higher than in the men having sex with men demographic, at 30%. An estimated 36% of more than 30,000 IDUs shared needles in 2008. About 900 new Aids cases who are IDUs were also reported last year, according to the Disease Control Department.

Dr Petchsri urged the Thai government to step up the harm reduction programme to lessen the incidence of HIV transmission among IDUs. Aids prevention measures among drug users should be on a par with risk groups such as sex workers, men having sex with men, prisoners and migrant workers, she said.

“Negative attitudes towards drug users make it very difficult to carry out the harm reduction programme,” she said.

“Society should give them a chance and opportunities to access essential treatments rather than pushing them away so the HIV/Aids problem can be solved as a whole.”

Dr Petchsri, also a medical expert at the Disease Control Department, said health authorities also faced difficulties in implementing the project as the Council of State considered providing syringes to be illegal, in accordance with the 1979 Narcotics Act.

She said health authorities would discuss with legal experts on the Aids Committee, chaired by Prime Minster Yingluck Shinawatra, about amendments of the Narcotics Act and the related Drug Users Rehabilitation Act 2002 to seek ways to continue working on the harm reduction project.

Meanwhile, hundreds of international scientific experts will meet in Bangkok next week during an Aids vaccine conference to discuss the latest scientific data.

Pannee Pitisuttithum, head of Mahidol University’s department of clinical tropical medicine, said the protocol for a further Aids vaccine study was being drafted.

The so-called RV306 trial would involve 300 volunteers aged between 18 and 45 in a bid to learn about the effectiveness and efficacy of the vaccine over a period of two years.

The vaccine research is a follow-up project to the large-scale trial carried out in Thailand during 2003-2006, she said.

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