Overview of HIV in Thailand
Thailand accounts for 9% of the total population of individuals living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific, making it one of the highest prevalences in the region. Even though the epidemic is declining, the condition is still prevalent among key affected populations, particularly young people. This Pacific Prime Thailand article focuses on the HIV and AIDS situation in the Land of Smiles. We’ll discuss where and how travelers and expats living in Thailand might get exposed to the virus, what their treatment options are, and how to protect oneself from contracting HIV in Thailand.
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It lowers the infected person’s ability to fight other diseases, making him or her significantly more prone to developing infections and cancers that a normal, healthy person would typically be able to fight off on their own. HIV can be transmitted only in three ways:
- Through blood
- Through sexual contact (including oral sex)
- During labor, when the mother transmits the virus to the child (assuming the mother did not take special drugs to prevent transmission to the child)
One thing to note here is that HIV may not show any symptoms for up to 10-12 years. The virus carrier may not even be aware that he or she has it, and end up infecting their sexual partners unknowingly for many years.
None of the routine laboratory tests can detect the infection – it can only be determined by performing a special HIV blood test for the presence of anti-HIV antibodies. The test should be performed at the earliest 3 months after the potential infection because each individual produces antibodies at a different rate and testing too early can show a false negative result.
HIV is incurable, but modern medicine can extend the life of an infected patient effectively. Treatment consists of taking antiretroviral drugs (ARV) that slow down the virus’ multiplication in the body. A patient can lead a normal life, and engage in sexual intercourse, but only with the use of a condom. A good quality condom, used from the beginning to the end of sexual contact, protects against infection with almost 100 percent effectiveness.
AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, which is revealed after many years of its carrier. Therefore, it is not a separate virus, but the most advanced stage of the disease in which the immune system of a sick person is almost completely devastated. The patient suffers from infections (e.g. pneumonia, which for HIV carriers can be fatal) more often than healthy people, and is also more likely to develop cancer.
Almost every case of HIV will sooner or later lead to the development of AIDS. It can happen within a few years, and in the case of early antiretroviral therapy – even several dozen years. According to today’s state of research, AIDS is an incurable disease and leads to death.
HIV in Thailand
According to UNAIDS, in 2019 there were between 410,000 to 540,000 adults and children living with HIV in Thailand. Around 80% of the HIV-infected population takes ARV medications, and the overall rate of new cases is dropping year by year. Thai citizens have free access to HIV tests, screenings, and drugs, but tourists and expats alike should seek help in private hospitals, where they can communicate in English with medical staff.
HIV and AIDS are a huge topic in Thailand. The cost of treatments and testing is not too expensive, as many of the drugs are made locally. Thailand’s government is fighting to eliminate the disease, and they do all they can in the public healthcare sphere to help minimize it. Unless you are on a working visa, HIV treatment for foreigners in Thailand is not free and you will have to wait to get both tested and treated for HIV in public hospitals.
Insurance options for HIV positive expats in Thailand
As a general rule, international insurers won’t offer coverage for HIV/AIDS-related treatment to someone who has already been tested HIV positive.
HIV, like other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), is normally excluded from coverage outright in the majority of health insurance plans. However, some insurers may exclude it only if it was transmitted through sex, but will cover you if it was contracted through other means (e.g., blood transfusion), and only if you got infected while being enrolled in your current policy. Even if that’s the case, this particular coverage usually comes with a long waiting period, meaning a long time period must pass before you can even use the benefits associated with it.
Travel insurance: AIDS and HIV
When it comes to HIV and travel insurance, it’s important to remember that such plans don’t cover medical costs related to pre-existing conditions, including HIV/AIDS.
That said, it is still important to make sure that your travel policy covers every eventuality such as repatriation, trip cancellation, medical evacuation, accidental loss or damage of personal possessions, loss or theft of money, and other travel-related mishaps.
How to reduce the risk of getting HIV in Thailand
There are a few precautions you can take to reduce your risk of contracting HIV in Thailand. Consider the following:
- Get tested, and know your partner’s status. HIV tests, especially in Thailand, are affordable at public hospitals and clinics, and knowing you and your partner’s HIV status can help you both take the necessary steps to avoid spreading it further, such as by undertaking antiretroviral therapy (ART) to minimize the viral load in one’s body.
- Have less risky sex. HIV is mainly spread by having anal or vaginal sex without a condom, or without taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV.
- Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to have a partner with HIV (whose infection is not well controlled) or to have a partner with a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
- Consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is an HIV prevention medication for people who don’t have HIV, but who are or might be at risk of contracting it.
- Be careful with injections. Injecting drugs through non-sterile equipment also increases the risk of contracting HIV.
While you can’t always predict what will happen, being aware of the risks and ways to reduce the chances of contracting HIV is a good start. And while this part of taking care of your health is in your hands, the team at Pacific Prime Thailand can help with health insurance and medical matters, which can be complicated and overwhelming.
Whether you have more questions about travel insurance and HIV or would like to secure an expat health insurance plan, Pacific Prime Thailand is here to help. Contact us for impartial advice or a free plan comparison and quote today.
When she isn’t writing, you are most likely to find Elwira in search of the perfect plant-based burger or enjoying Hong Kong’s great outdoors either at the beach or from the boat - the closer to the sea, the better!
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