UN expert hails Thailands pledge to help injecting drug users avoid AIDS
The Thai Government’s pledge at the recent XV International AIDS Conference held in Bangkok was hailed by Special Rapporteur Paul Hunt. The expert, who monitors “On the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” issued a statement in Geneva saluting the Government’s promise to support and collaborate with the Thai Drug User Network and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and its recognition of injecting drug users in Thailand as a group extremely vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. In a statement released in Geneva, Mr. Hunt praised the Government’s commitment to ensuring access to anti-retroviral treatment for all who require it and to supporting neighbouring countries in this effort. “This is an important step toward realizing the right to health for people living with HIV/AIDS,” he said. At the same time, Mr. Hunt remained cautious in the face of reports of an alarming number of people living with HIV/AIDS who lack access to counselling and who suffer discrimination. Voicing his concerns to the Government late last week, Mr. Hunt also cited reports that Thailand’s policies had “generated a climate of fear that has driven drug users deeper underground and forced them beyond the reach of both prevention and treatment efforts.” “I am concerned that the Anti-Narcotics Campaign, coupled with limited access to harm reduction services, has inadvertently created the conditions for a more extensive spread of the virus in Thailand,” said Mr. Hunt, encouraging the authorities to act swiftly on recent policy initiatives in order to remedy the situation. The expert pointed to data showing that the number of injecting drug users who are seeking treatment has declined considerably in the period 2003-2004, while HIV prevalence rates among injecting drug users has remained unacceptably high at 50 per cent.