Thai Police cadets spread safe sex message | Connect Asia

Thai Police cadets spread safe sex message

Thai Police cadets spread safe sex message

Updated 18 January 2012, 20:35 AEDT

New figures released by the Thai Ministry of Public Health say Thailand is likely to face as many as 12,000 new HIVAIDs infections this year.

Health ministry officials say among the most vulnerable are those in the gay community and women - whose spouses become infected. One Thai non-government organization working with the gay sex worker community has been training Thai police cadets to boost Thai law enforcement support in efforts to promote safe sex in the country's entertainment industry.

Presenter: Ron Corben

Sub Lt Natcharapol Rayayol; police cadet; Surang Janyam, the director of Service Workers in Group; Patrick Benny, UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Thailand

CORBEN: Above the bars and night market on the fifth floor office in Bangkok's red light district of Patpong Thai police cadets have been undertaking special training with a non-government organization, Service Workers in Group or SWING.

This is not ordinary police work. The training with the staff takes them to the bars and streets of male sex workers, delivering a message of safe sex in the fight against AIDS. The cadets will then report back to the graduating classes at cadet school.

For the young cadets, these were lessons in life and for Sub Lt Natcharapol Rayayol the three weeks training left its mark.

NATCHARAPOL: What the message I told my friends in the cadet school; 'everybody is human - we are human - even sex worker they are human, just only they are selling sex but they are human - we are the same. When I come to be a policeman, OK I will understand more that they are human even if they are a sex worker.

CORBEN: Surang Janyam is director of SWING, which provides support and awareness programs to male sex workers in Bangkok and the beachside resort of Pattaya. There have been difficulties. In the past, Surang says HIV AIDS prevention programs faced problems as sex workers were repeatedly harassed by police. SWING staff hands out condoms as part of the program to the sex workers at the bars.

SURANG: Many times that we saw that sex workers have a problem then they have a condom. That's because that means they are a sex worker and in Thailand the sex worker is illegal and then sex workers will get arrested by the police.

CORBEN: Surang says the program has faced disruptions. While local police were supportive of SWING's work the efforts, the support was inconsistent when police were rotated to new stations in other provinces. Then Surang decided to search for an alternative to establish a program targeting a new generation of Thai police.

SURANG: If we can work with the police cadet because they are the new generation of the police, it will give them another perspective. The police cadet has to do the same as the SWING staff. They have to go to educate the sex workers who are working on the street, who are working in the bar. Give out condoms and try to make them (sex workers) understand to take care of themselves and save themselves.

Thailand has more than 610-thousand people living with HIV/AIDS. Of the adult population 58 per cent are male. HIV prevalence in Thailand remains the highest in the region. The Thai Health Ministry is forecasting almost 12,000 people to become newly infected with the virus that leads to AIDS this year. Most new sufferers will be women followed by gay men who have unprotected sex.

CORBEN: Patrick Benny, Thailand United Nations AIDS Country Coordinator, says while the forecast is much lower than the 120,000 new infections Thailand was reporting each year a decade ago, trends do point to a rising incidence within key vulnerable groups.

BENNY: The 12,000 figure is actually a decrease over the previous over the previous year's figures so the trend as per projections is still downward overall across the entire Thai population. Though what the ministry is also seeing - incidents increasing - so not prevalence rates - across the total population but incidents in certain population. Those numbers, particularly in most at risk populations - sex workers both male and female, injecting drug users - there are indications that rates of infections are actually rising on an annual basis. HIV is, and remains, an issue in this country - that is something we need to be aware of and that very simply because it is totally preventable; people need to take the precautions that they should be taking in order to prevent new infections happening.

CORBEN: Thai policy makers recognize more needs to be done through government and United Nations funding to raise public education and awareness. For Khun Surang the cadet training programs are at least a start to halt sex workers from police harassment and promote safe sex in the entertainment industry.

SURANG: When some of the police they understand that can help us. Now we know many of the police who were interns with us and then they understand what we do and they understand why sex worker have to become sex worker - they are helping that because they are human - even though they are sex worker -- but they are human.

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