Youths at biggest risk of getting HIV, Thailand

THAILAND : Young people are increasingly at risk of contracting HIV/Aids and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), a study released by the United Nations Fund for Children said yesterday. Those most at risk are gay males, sex workers and drug addicts, aged between 15 and 24 years old.

According to the study, conducted by Thammasat University and Unicef, around 70% of new cases of sexually transmitted infections occur in young people. The study cited national data showing that 41% of new HIV infections are contracted by young men who have sex with men (MSMs).

The chief of HIV/Aids for Unicef Thailand, Robert Gass, said the main factors leading to HIV infection in young people were a lack of life experience causing poor decision making, along with alcohol and drug use.

“Social media, online dating websites and mobile applications make it much easier for young people to meet up and engage in casual sex,” he said.

Pongthorn Chanlearn, executive director of Mplus Foundation, a non-governmental organisation in Chiang Mai province, said many young people acknowledge using condoms to protect themselves is important; however, many are either too shy to buy them or fail to use them when having sex.

HIV infection among female sex workers in Thailand has fallen from 2.8% in 2008 to 1.8% in 2011, the report found. This is because a large number of sex workers have been using condoms with clients and their partners.

Migrant workers are another group at risk of HIV infection because they lack knowledge about HIV and STI prevention, according to the report.

The group often faces difficulties in gaining access to free health services and HIV prevention information, due to language barriers and financial problems.

The study was conducted among 2,000 people aged 15-24 early last year in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Songkhla and Ubon Ratchathani.

Respondents included MSMs, transgenders, sex workers, migrant workers and drug addicts.

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