In 1984, the first official diagnosis of HIV was made. The disease quickly spread, especially through mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). In 1988, the first HIV-exposed infant in Thailand was born. Up to the mid-90s, the rate of MTCT rose to 20 to 40 percent, which was considered an epidemic wave of HIV infected women and children.
Concerted effort by the Thai government in collaboration with other agencies saw the rate of HIV MTCT reduced to 2 percent by 2015. In 2016, Thailand became the first country in Asia to ensure an AIDS-free generation by eliminating MTCT of HIV.
Thailand’s success story is remarkable for a country with a large HIV prevalence rate. According to Dr Poonam, Thailand has demonstrated to the world that HIV can be defeated. The country’s commitment to public health principles was crucial in the elimination of MTCT of HIV.
Thailand has become a model nation for the elimination of MTCT of HIV and other countries can borrow some of the lessons learnt. Their success can be credited to their commitment to a four-fold strategy developed by an inter-agency task team led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF:
- Primary prevention of HIV infection among women of childbearing age
- Prevent unintended pregnancies among women living with HIV
- Prevent HIV transmission from a woman living with HIV to her infant
- Provide appropriate treatment, care and support to mothers living with HIV and their children and families
In a press release by UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, Executive Director stated: “Thailand has turned around its epidemic and transformed the lives of thousands of women and children affected by HIV. Thailand’s progress shows how much can be achieved when science and medicine are underpinned by sustained political commitment.”
Sustained effort in preventing new HIV infections in women of child-bearing age has been a major contributor. Thailand implemented what has come to be known as the 100% Condom Programme. The programme promotes 100% condom use with commercial sex workers: preventing new HIV infections and unintended pregnancies in women of reproductive age.
Mothers living with AIDS pose the risk of MTCT by 20 to 40 percent during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or through breastfeeding. To curtail the risk of transmission, the government provided free infant formula to children of mothers living with HIV. The government also provided free Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) for both HIV-infected mothers and their children.
The Thai government’s commitment to providing free antenatal care, delivery and HIV treatment to all pregnant women has significantly contributed to the eradication of MTCT of HIV. This commitment includes both documented and undocumented pregnant immigrants.
Thailand has invested heavily in strong maternal and child health care and national AIDS prevention measures. This is a stellar example of what good policy and great commitment can do to make real change happen. According to Dr Karin of UNICEF, this has achievement has inspired other countries in the Asia-Pacific region into action.