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In Thailand, the number of deaths due to the AIDS virus fell in 2005 to one-third its level the previous year because of growing access to special anti-AIDS drugs. Thai officials say the total number of new infections also declined but are concerned about new infections among teenagers and homosexuals.
Thai officials say the number of AIDS-related deaths declined from more than 5,000 in 2004 to 1600 last year and the number of HIV-positive people who developed full-blown AIDS declined by one-fourth to fewer than 10,000.
The Director of the Ministry of Health's Disease Control Department, Thawat Suntharacharn, says the decline is largely due to a program that began in late 2004 to provide anti-retroviral, or ARV, drugs to all HIV sufferers through the kingdom's public health scheme.
Dr. Thawat says of the one-half million HIV cases in Thailand, 200,000 would benefit from the expensive cocktail of anti-retroviral medicines. He says 50,000 received them last year and his department hopes to double that number in 2006.
"We try to give them all the ARV drugs by the next two years. But right now for this year (2006), we try to increase the access rate for ARV (by) about 50 percent," he said.
The Disease Control Center has also announced that new infections of HIV declined in Thailand by about 10 percent to 18,000 last year. However, Dr. Thawat says the department is concerned that many of the new cases are among teenagers.
"We still have some problems about the teenagers, particularly the girls right now, because of the unsafe sex by the teenager," he explained.
He says most new AIDS cases in Thailand last year were among teenagers and homosexuals, but added that drug users and sex workers remain highly vulnerable groups.
Dr. Thawat says the use of condoms remains the best way to prevent the disease and the Thai government last year distributed 24 million condoms to high risk groups.
Thailand experienced a major AIDS epidemic beginning in the 1980s and new infections reached 140,000 in 1991. However, public awareness and condom distribution programs, supported by the government and civic groups, has since dramatically reduced the rate.