Of Thailand’s population of nearly 70 million, an estimated 470,000 people were living with HIV and 14,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2019.
Thai nationals are often careless about the risks of infection as many simply believe it ‘can’t happen to them.’ Thai culture encourages young people not to have any sexual experience before they are married.
But most male teenagers reaching puberty ignore social warnings or a way of life that is considered old fashioned.
According to immunologist Vicham Vithayasai, 60 percent of 15-year-olds and 80 percent of 18-year-olds already have visited prostitutes.
‘Young kids who haven’t had sex yet are teased by their friends,’ Vithayasai said. It was always possible to find a reason to have sex, whether you are taking the boss out, or visiting a new city, he said.
‘The attitude is that if you haven’t had sex there, you haven’t really been there,’ he said.
Women suffer the consequences
As in most societies Thai men believe they should be sowing their wild oats whilst their women are expected to be virgins when they marry.
For a woman to have sex before marriage is seen as an unforgivable slur on the family’s honor and reputation.
If the husbands have affairs or visit prostitutes, women often bear it silently and accept the situation.
It was too late when Karuna, a 26-year-old mother of two, realized that her husband’s affair would be fatal for her.
“I trusted him – and so I didn’t use protection,” Karuna said. Now she is HIV-positive.
In contrast to the West, AIDS in Thailand is transmitted 95 percent by heterosexuals. Thai men often infect their partners and then blame the westernization of their society for the problem.
They complain that traditional values and behavioral patterns are being eroded. The fact that it is mostly the men contributing to the spread of HIV is simply ignored.
Equal rights for men and women?
The Thai constitution guarantees men and women equal rights. Still, many of the country’s laws contradict the 1997 constitutional amendment, said Virada Somswadi, who teaches social sciences at the University of Chiang Mai. Equality in everyday life does not exist, she said.
‘Her whole life, the Thai woman has to fight her way in a blatantly patriarchal macho system,’ said Somswadi, who has been fightingFree Subscription for women’s rights for more than 20 years. ‘It’s a system that denies her the same rights as the men.‘
More education necessary
The first official AIDS-related illness was recorded in Thailand in 1984. In reality, the virus was already widespread in the country by then.
In 1992, Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun started the ‘100-percent condoms’ initiative.
But the government’s condom promotion was only a short-term solution to try to reduce infection rates.
They failed to back it up with programs that would properly educate men on the dangers of unprotected sexual promiscuity and, therefore, failed to convince Thai men to change their sexual lifestyles.
As long as wives continue to blindly trust their husbands, they run the risk of getting infected. Mostly they don’t understand that they are in any danger, or that using a condom considerably reduces any risk of infection.
Since HIV/AIDS was first reported, 1,115,415 adults had been infected by 2008 and 585,830 of those had died.
By 2008 650,000 Thai people were living with HIV/AIDS and in 2009 1.3% of the population had been infected. This is a Thai statistic so the reality of the epidemic is likely to be very much higher than that.
By 2010 Thailand had, by far, the worst HIV/AIDS problem in Asia.
An estimated 1.3 million people in Thailand are thought to currently be HIV-positive. Half of the recent cases are women who were infected by their husbands or their partners.