Three Decades Leading the Charge Against AIDS in Thailand

TREAT Asia Report Interview: Dr. Praphan Phanuphak

Originally published at amfAR

Thirty years ago, Dr. Praphan Phanuphak diagnosed the first three cases of HIV in Thailand. In 1989, he co-founded the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre (TRC-ARC), and currently serves as its director. Dr. Phanuphak and TRC-ARC have helped set the agenda for the HIV response in the Asia-Pacific and conducted some of the region’s—and world’s—most groundbreaking AIDS research. In 2001, Dr. Phanuphak helped found the TREAT Asia Network. He is also a professor of medicine at Chulalongkorn University and a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Strategy and Policy Committee on HIV and the UNAIDS Scientific Advisory Committee.

TREAT Asia Report: Could you tell us about the creation of the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre (TRC-ARC) and the impact the program has had on the response to HIV in Thailand and across the Asia-Pacific?

Dr. Praphan Phanuphak: In 1989, the Thai Red Cross Society was already heavily involved in responding to HIV through its hospitals and national blood bank, so the executive board established TRC-ARC to coordinate all of its HIV-related activities, including those of its volunteers.

In the early days of HIV, Thai law required that hospitals and clinics report the names of individuals who tested positive to the Ministry of Public Health, and the names were occasionally leaked to the public. This often resulted in patients losing their jobs or access to education, as well as being stigmatized by neighbors and friends. And this made people very afraid of HIV testing. In order to get rid of this fear, TRC-ARC made a special request to the government to set up a ‘no-name’ HIV counseling and testing facility, meaning that TRC-ARC could not report the names of its patients.

On July 4, 1991, we established the Thai Red Cross Anonymous Clinic.  It was Asia’s first anonymous clinic, and the public response was so huge it caused the government to lift the reporting law. Soon many more anonymous clinics were established throughout the country, but the Anonymous Clinic remains Thailand’s largest voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) center. The clinic performs more than 25,000 HIV tests a year and helps identify thousands of HIV-infected individuals annually, referring them to treatment and care centers. And many individuals diagnosed at the Anonymous Clinic participate in the clinical trials undertaken by TRC-ARC.

Over the last 26 years, TRC-ARC has been involved in HIV care and prevention services, research, and advocacy. The services we provide may only directly benefit the clients who come to the center, but our research and pilot treatment and prevention program models have generated interest worldwide, resulting in changes in HIV-related medical practice and policy in Thailand and throughout the world. 

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