Countries around the world have been developing campaigns to stem new HIV infections. Many governments tried to ignore AIDS when it first began developing in their country. However, they soon learned it could not be ignored and a variety of culturally-specific interventions have been developed.
Thailand has been recognized worldwide for its battle against HIV/AIDS. Initially, AIDS was seen in foreigners and then some injecting drug users;
therefore, it was not seen as a “Thai problem.” Thailand initially did not want to mount a large anti-AIDS campaign because a large portion of its revenue is derived from tourism, and it believed that attention to the AIDS problem would deter tourism (D’Agnes, 2001).
The most prominent figure in Thailand’s effort has been Mechai Viravaidhya. Known internationally for his anti-AIDS crusade, he was initially unsuccessful in getting his government to start a public health campaign against AIDS, as they insisted there was no “Thai to Thai” transmission. He refocused his target and was successful in getting the military to support him in fighting AIDS due to the rising infection rates among new recruits. The military leaders supported broadcasting AIDS awareness messages and stopped the stigmatizing of HIV-infected soldiers.
He then broadened his focus and convinced businesses to support his efforts by reminding them that “sick people cannot work and dead people cannot buy” (D’Agnes, 2001). When a new government came to power, he was given the support, including a large budget, to develop a broad campaign. He developed a widespread public awareness campaign, including radio and TV ads, subsidized songs and movies about AIDS, and educational programs in both schools and businesses. He also made certain to include the Buddhist monks, a very important sector of Thai society. He launched the “100% condom program” in an attempt to get Thailand’s sex workers to use a condom 100% of the time (D’Agnes, 2001).
Thailand achieved remarkable success in the battle against AIDS and saw its rate of new infections fall from 140,000 in 1991 to 21,000 in 2003 to 9,700 in 2011 (Kanabus & Fredriksson, 2005; UNAIDS, 2012c). However, he and other activists warn of complacency, stating that with decreased government spending and awareness, infection rates are again rising. Funding for free condoms was cut back in 1998 after the Asian financial crisis. With the availability of accessible treatment, it appears that some have come to view HIV as a treatable disease. Few young people are using condoms during intercourse. Free condoms have been brought back and a new advertising scheme has been developed (World Health Organization, 2010).