Young Thais at Highest Risk for STDs, Health Official Warns

Campaigners dress up as condoms during an HIV and STD awareness rally in Khon Kaen province on Dec. 1, 2016.

BANGKOK — Thais, especially those under 25, are increasingly at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, a health official said Wednesday.

Gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, chancroid, and venereal diseases in the lymph nodes among the young people appear to be on the rise, according to Atsadang Ruayajin, deputy director of the Department of Disease Control, who said the infection rates have been rising steadily since 2015.

While the average age group has 33.9 STD patients per 100,000 Thais, the number surges to 124.6 per 100,000 for the age group of 15 to 24.

Atsadang recommended using condoms as protection. He also advised the public to buy the appropriate condom size, store them properly, and refrain from wearing two condoms at once. And in case this somehow needs to be said, condoms must be disposed of properly after one use.

“Do not throw them into rivers or canals,” Atsadang said. In June 2019, a Facebook post of a canal filled with condoms in Bangkok Yai district drew widespread disgust.

For a comparison, prevalence of syphilis in the United States was at 35.3, chlamydia at 539.3, and gonorrhea at 179.1 per 100,000 people in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Atsadang’s announcement coincides with a heated online debate sparked by HIV awareness advocate Thitiwat “Pete” Sirasethakorn who urged those living with detectable viral load of HIV to have sex without condoms, in order to raise awareness about the Undetectable = Untransmittable UNAIDS principle. 

Thitiwat, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2015, said he hopes the gesture would educate the public that people living with undetectable HIV cannot transmit the virus sexually. He also plans to hold a workshop about the issue, where tickets would cost 500 baht each.

But his activism drew backlash from Thai medical experts, who warned that having sexual intercourse without condoms still carries a great risk of other STDs.

The New York State Department of Health recommends that only HIV-positive undetectable partners in a monogamous relationship should choose to forgo sexual protection.