Magazine article UN Chronicle

Asleep at the Wheel

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Asleep at the Wheel

Article excerpt

The world has been living with the HIV/AIDS epi for some thirty years, and prevention methods has been scientifically proven and disseminated to the public for nearly as long. Yet, there are, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) High Level Commission on HIV Prevention, at least 7,000 new HIV infections every day--an alarming number that indicates HIV/AIDS awareness is at an unacceptable level of neglect by governments, civil society, and the private sector. There was a strong worldwide effort towards HIV prevention when the disease began spreading rapidly throughout the developing world in the early 1990s but, more recently, a disproportionate amount of funding has been directed towards treatment, rather than prevention. Obviously, prevention is the most effective method in slowing down the spread of this terrible disease, but decisionmakers still view HIV prevention as a health problem, not a societal one.

In my home country of Thailand, there was immediate denial by the Government when the disease first appeared in the 1980s because they feared that it would be detrimental to the tourism industry. Realizing that this crisis required urgent action, we took the "no" from the Government as a question, and we then approached the Thai military, which was more open-minded. They had a strong interest in making sure their soldier, sailor, and marine recruits were not being infected with HIV, so they allowed us to conduct a public awareness campaign on two hundred of their radio stations and two of their television stations.

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Mr. Anand Panyarachun was appointed Prime Minister in 1991, and he was much more serious than his predecessors about tackling the rapidly spreading virus. I was happy to be a member of his cabinet. He adopted policies of promoting safer sex, public awareness and, most importantly, reaching out to every segment of Thai society to educate people on the dangers of HIV/AIDS. By working with communities that were seen as vulnerable--including drug users, sex workers, and sexually active teenagers--and by making them part of the solution, it was possible to change their behaviour in order to slow the rate of HIV infection. According to a 2005 study by the World Bank, an estimated 7,700,000 lives were saved and, according to UNAIDS, there was a 90 per cent decline in new infections due to these unique and innovative approaches. …

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