Thailand opens Asia’s first transgender clinic on AIDS Day

Focus 5

The Thai Red Cross partnering with the United States Agency for International Development opened Asia’s first health center for transgender people in the Thai capital of Bangkok on December 1, World AIDS Day, and was one of several events in Thailand marking the day.

Transgender people are among a few groups with higher-than-usual rates of HIV infection. These groups are often referred to as “bridge populations” because they provide a pathway for the virus to spread into the general population. Although Thailand is known for its tolerant attitudes towards transgender people, many still live on the margins of society and do not access public services such as health care and HIV prevention services.

Reaching transgender people and other bridge groups with health services is an important means of halting the spread of the virus, according to public health experts involved in responding to the HIV epidemic. Thailand’s response to the HIV epidemic has been hailed by United Nations agencies and other organizations as a model for how developing countries can effectively tackle this and other epidemics.

The new center is named the Tangerine Community Health Center and is housed in the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Center in Bangkok’s central business district. Tangerine is managed by trained personnel who are transgender and gender-sensitive medical professionals. It provides services that include psychosocial counseling, hormone administration and pap smears.

“The center will provide friendly needed services to the transgender community locally, while leading the region in identifying and sharing models to improve healthcare access and quality among transgender people,” said United States Ambassador Glyn Davies at the opening ceremony.

The U.S. government provides support for the center under the “Inform Asia: USAID’s Health Research Program,” which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development under the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief  (PEPFAR), and was implemented by RTI International and Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre..

“These efforts will be critical to achieving an end to AIDS, but will also contribute to a much broader agenda to promote the health and rights of transgender people,” Davies said.

Thai Transgender Alliance for Human Rights communications director Nicha Rongram said, “This is an immense step for Thailand and the region regarding the mobilization and advocacy for transgender health.”  It adheres to the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, reiterating non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the rights to highest standard of health.

“At the Thai Red Cross Tangerine Community Health Center, we are committed to provide the highest attainable standard of health in an affordable and accessible manner for all transgender people with respect to their rights to health and human dignity,” said Professor Emeritus Praphan Phanuphak, director of the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre.

UNICEF, which along with UNAIDS plays a leading role in responding to the HIV epidemic worldwide, recently warned that many countries in Asia and their young people were becoming complacent about HIV and AIDS for a variety of reasons, including advances in treatment and low levels of funding for education and prevention programs.

The agency said that young people are an at-risk group and the number of infections of young people in Asia is higher than it should be and is rising. UNICEF called on governments to renew and sustain their campaigns to halt the spread of HIV.