- Thailand has one of the highest HIV prevalences in Asia and the Pacific, accounting for 9% of the region’s total population of people living with HIV.
- Although the epidemic is in decline, prevalence remains high among key affected groups.
- Thailand is the first country to effectively eliminate mother to child transmissions, with a transmission rate of less than 2%.
- Thailand hopes to be one of the first countries to end AIDS by 2030. However, to achieve this significantly more young people and key affected populations need to be reached.
- Of Thailand’s population of more than of nearly 70 million, it was estimated that 450,000 people were living with HIV in 2016 and that 16,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses.1 After sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific is the region with the largest number of people living with HIV, with Thailand home to approximately 9% of the region’s HIV positive people.2Thanks to successful HIV testing programmes, Thailand has reached the first 90 of UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 targets as 91% of people living with HIV in 2016 were aware of their status. Of those people who know they are HIV positive, 75% were on treatment, 79% of whom were virally suppressed. Overall, this equates to 69% of all people living with HIV being on treatment and 54% being virally suppressed.3
Thailand’s HIV epidemic is concentrated among certain key populations. Those most affected are men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and people who inject drugs. Spouses of these populations, migrants and prisoners are also more vulnerable to HIV than others.4
HIV prevalence is declining in Thailand due to successful HIV prevention programmes. A study has shown that nearly 10 million people avoided HIV transmission because of early intervention programmes with key affected populations between 1990 and 2010.5 Between 2005 and 2016, AIDS-related deaths declined by almost two thirds.6
There were 6,400 new HIV infections in Thailand in 2016.7 Most will have occurred through unprotected sex, which is estimated to account for 90% of all new HIV infections. Unsafe injecting drug use is the second biggest transmission route.8
Increased access to prevention services has resulted in new infections decreasing among some groups but they are rising among others. For example, while the rate of new infections through injecting drug use steadily decreased between 1995 and 2015, the rate of new infections through male-to-male sex dramatically increased over the same period.9
Of all new infections in 2016, around 44% occurred among men who have sex with men, 10% among sex workers and their clients, and 11% among people who inject drugs, making these population groups a priority for prevention work.10
Sex workers and HIV
In Thailand, HIV prevalence is far greater among male sex workers than female. In 2014, of the estimated 147,000 sex workers in the country, HIV prevalence was approximately 12% among male sex workers and 1% among female sex workers.20 However, urban settings have shown to yield exceptionally high HIV prevalences among female sex workers, as high as 20% in Bangkok, for example.21
Data from 2013 suggests female sex workers account for 10% of all new HIV infections in Thailand.22. This may be the result of a lack of information about HIV or a lack of access to services. For example, a 2015 UNICEF study of young key populations in Thailand found only 31% of young female sex workers in Bangkok and 50% in Chiang Mai had received any HIV-related information or services in the past 12 months, compared to 80% of the other key populations surveyed such as men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs.23 The same study found that, of the young female sex workers surveyed, only 12% in Chiang Mai and 18% in Bangkok had tested for HIV in the past 12 months.
Globally, transgender people are the most at-risk group of sex workers, with HIV prevalence estimated to be on average nine times higher than for female sex workers and three times higher than for male sex workers.24