Pioneering Thai HIV clinic opens with U.S. support

The first clinic in Thailand dedicated solely to serving people at high risk of contracting the HIV virus opened in the northern province of Chiang Rai last week with funding support from the United States and Thai governments, using an approach that public health professionals believe can be scaled up and replicated nationwide.

“This new partnership is a key milestone demonstrating Thailand’s commitment to financing a community response to HIV,” United States Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies said at the opening ceremony last Friday. “We are proud of our three generations of public health cooperation with the Kingdom, and pleased to work with national health officials and communities to take, together, the final steps toward ending AIDS.”

The Mplus clinic in Chiang Rai is dedicated to providing health services to members of the LGBTQ community and female commercial sex workers. They are considered two of the three most at-risk groups for contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Reaching these groups with information and tools for prevention, testing and treatment, however, remains a challenge because much of society disapproves of their identity, sexual orientation, behavior or work. They face discrimination and are sometimes targeted by law enforcement, and so they are reluctant to access health care and services, especially at public hospitals or clinics.

By establishing a clinic that solely serves them, those engaged in the response to the epidemic hope to raise the level of trust with those communities. That would hopefully increase the chance they will seek health services that could prevent them from contracting the HIV virus, know their status so that they don’t pass the virus on to others, and receive treatment so they can live with the same longevity as those not affected by the disease.

“The new Mplus clinic is a great example of the government-supported and co-financed Key Population-led Health Services Model for ensuring access to HIV services for all citizens,” Praphan Phanuphak, director of the Thai Red Cross Aids Research Centre, told The Nation newspaper. “We believe this model can be replicated across Thailand as well as in other countries.”

Along with funding from the Thai government, Mplus receives financial and other support from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) through the U.S. Agency for International Development Linkages Project implemented by FHI 360, a non-governmental organization.

Northern Thailand has been particularly hard hit by the HIV epidemic for various reasons including irregular migration of people from neighboring countries and narcotics smuggling and addiction.