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THAILAND - Dec 16, 2003

Dr. Swarup Sarkar, Thai program development advisor for UNAIDS, says that his agency is raising the alarm about the removal of condoms from Thai gay saunas following repeated harassment during recent government "social order" campaigns aimed primarily at drug use.

Repeated raids on gay saunas -- popular private social spaces for gays in the Kingdom -- threatened owners with prosecution for operating sex establishments if condoms were found on the premises. Previously condoms were freely distributed and widely used by patrons.

"Anything that hampers access to tools of prevention jeopardizes the whole program," warned Dr. Sarkar. Despite its good record for more than a decade of HIV/AIDS prevention, Thailand's recent publicity hungry anti-vice campaigns have had only managed to reverse condom awareness among youth.

A recent study provided shocking statistics that more than 17 percent of 1,121 gay and bisexual men tested in 255 Bangkok gay venues were found to be HIV-positive. The study revealed that 44 percent reported having unsafe sex during the previous six months. Young men aged 18-22 were nearly twice as likely to have been infected.



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