Message from Prof. Emeritus Praphan Phanuphak, the Director of Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre
Apparently many people think that the AIDS problem is not complex, as it seems not very difficult to prevent; just don't be promiscuous and always have safe sex or keep away from drugs, and that's it. However, many people still live their lives at risk; by having unsafe sex and sabotaging their lives with drugs. Many don't even know they are HIV positive and unintentionally pass on the disease to others because they never received a blood test. This is one of the main reasons AIDS continues to be spread.
As good Thai citizens, we should bear in mind that the blood test is our responsibility. No matter who you are or what kind of lifestyle you have, and as long as you once had sexual intercourse, you should have the blood test at least once in your life. Even though you may be a monogamist, you still can be infected. In the case that the test turns out negative, then you and your partner should relax and commit to each other definitely. A blood test for AIDS is nothing different from that for diabetes or the annual medical check-up. Every Thai citizen should receive a blood test for AIDS at least once in a life time.
Amid the spread of HIV/AIDS, many questions are raised. How can we treat people with AIDS properly and help them get a better treatment? How can we save their lives and help them to live a longer life and leave this world at the appropriate time, not because of the disease as many people assume. How do people in this society understand AIDS? Many think the only place where people living with AIDS have to go and end is Wat Prabatnampu and sadly end their miserable lives there. There is no recognition of the fact that people living with AIDS can live their lives til they turn 80. In fact there should be some authority informing them of this fact. Many patients don't even dare to seek proper treatment until the last day of their lives because they are afraid of not being accepted by their employers while some are not brave enough to have their blood tested despite risky behaviors and the fear that the result will turn out positive, which is hard to accept and very daunting.
We should understand and be informed about why people with AIDS are given acceptance from society. The story has is that, first, people still believe that the patients are bad people as those who are infected usually indulged risky behavior, for example, men who have sex with men (MSM), drug users and sex workers and their clients. Whoever got infected was usually considered they are bad just because they are MSM or sex workers? Actually, it is not fair to judge risky behavior as bad and evil. It is possible that those who are considered good people could have a chance to get infected also, take housewives who got infected from their beloved husbands as an example. Do they deserve to be judged as bad women? Or a guy who just wanted to have a little fun when he got a HIV positive prostitute just once and got infected: should he be judged as an evil for the rest of his life?
In the past Thai society didn't accept people with AIDS, considering them dangerous and disgusting people because there was a misunderstanding that people can contract AIDS easily. The infection was thought to be even easier to contract than bird flu. Now scientific studies found that it is not that easy to contract the disease, contributing to a better understanding that people with AIDS are not evil or dangerous. Their saliva, tears or sweat are not carriers of the disease while unsafe sex and getting infected blood transfers are the real instigators in this case. Therefore, you can share the same office and even can eat at the same table with people living with AIDS as they are still able to work and be part of the family, society and the nation. They are not just the victims of AIDS.
Once we understand how patients can be disliked and are ready to explain to people about correct understanding of AIDS, then we will create clearer insights for society. To make people who are HIV negative understand and not express prejudice is the full responsibility of the public and the media.