The Through Positive Eyes workshop in Bangkok was held in December 2013, amid massive political unrest in Thailand’s largest city. Months later, a coup d’état would establish a military takeover of the country. Against this tense backdrop, the participants in the Bangkok workshop shared their experiences facing the stigma associated with drug addiction, prison life, and sex work, as well as their determination to find the beauty in their own bodies and in their lives.

Thailand’s AIDS Epidemic, as of 2013

Number of adults living with HIV
540,000

HIV Prevalence

Adult HIV prevalence (15–49 years)
1.4%
Female sex workers
2.2%
Men who have sex with men
7.1%
People who inject drugs
25.2%

Treatment

Treatment is provided free as part of Thailand’s universal health insurance and has been provided according to WHO guidelines.

Numbers of adults on treatment
255,000
% of those needing treatment who are receiving it
47%
% of HIV-positive individuals on treatment who have no detectable virus
>95%

Key Events

1989
Ministry of Health conducts first national HIV surveillance.
1991
“100% condom campaign” promotes safe sex nationally.
2000
People living with HIV demonstrate in front of Parliament, and Minister of Health agrees to double the budget for antiretroviral treatment.
2002
Introduction of universal health coverage.
2013
Treatment eligibility extended to all Thais living with HIV, regardless of CD4 count.

Update 2019

A 2014 study showed that early Thai prevention programs had averted around 10 million HIV infections between 1990 and 2010.

By 2018, 480,000 (1.1% of adults(15-49)) of Thais were living with HIV. Of these, 359,000 were on treatment and 348,000 (>95%) had suppressed viral loads. HIV prevalence among female sex workers had declined to 1%, but prevalence among men who have sex with men and injecting drug users had increased to 9.15% and 19% respectively.

Aoi

Aoi

Growing up, I misbehaved a lot. I shared needles and drugs with others. I got arrested for selling. After five years in a provincial prison, I was sent to the main prison. I got a tattoo while I was …

Aoy

Aoy

I became infected with HIV ten years ago, when I was thirty, from sexual intercourse with my boyfriend. At first, my reaction was just as you would expect. I was shocked. And also, I was worried that …

Auwn

Auwn

In my family I play the role of mother and father to everybody. I’m always reaching out to embrace and support others. My partner, who had HIV, was a hard-working man, gentle to me, and he accepted m …

Bee

Bee

Some people accept my being a lady boy. I have felt like this since I was a child. Every lady boy’s dream is to be just like a real woman, with breasts and female sexual organs. I dreamed of saving m …

Jai

Jai

I got HIV from my partner, who liked buying sex. I told him if he couldn’t stop messing around like that, he should at least use condoms. “If you were to get AIDS, what would we do?” Not long after that …

Jo

Jo

I grew up in a broken family. My uncle raised me along with my cousin, but it seemed like all the love went to his own child. So I acted out by doing drugs to get attention. I was a bad boy. I tried …

Joe

Joe

In Bangkok, gay life and society means extravagance. I spent money on expensive stuff and, to be frank, I slept around. But every time I had sex with anyone, I always used condoms. That’s why I’m not sur …

Keng

Keng

In my teens I was addicted to drugs. I think I got HIV from sharing needles. I found out I was HIV-infected during my pregnancy with Nong Kao, my third child. I didn’t pay much attention. I only knew f …

Maam

Maam

When I was pregnant with my third child, the doctor told me they found a problem with my blood. I cried for seven days. I didn’t eat anything. All I could do was cry. Then I discovered more i …

No

No

I was an unruly young person. I ran away from home. I wanted to work and earn money and dress beautifully. When I was about seventeen, I became a go-go dancer—a sex worker—in a bar. My first drug was coc …

Sam

Sam

Hailing from the economically depressed northern part of the country, I always dreamed of having more money and seeking better security in life. Once I moved to Bangkok, I did things I would never …

Wat

Wat

I fell very ill and had to be admitted to the hospital. I told no one but my mother. My doctor told me I wouldn’t live long. But my mother refused to believe it. She said, “I have eight children and I w …

Supporters

Through Positive Eyes in Bangkok was organized in partnership with Space Bangkok, with assistance from Rainbow Sky Association, Red Cross—Bangkok, Tantawan Group, and the Bangkok office of UNAIDS. Major funding was provided by The Herb Ritts Foundation, with additional support from The Ford Foundation, Gere Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, UNAIDS, and UCLA.