THAILAND: Thais rally for cheap access to AIDS drugs.

Reuters English News Service

BANGKOK, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Over 1,000 HIV-positive Thais rallied outside parliament on Friday, demanding cheaper access to anti-AIDS drugs and protesting against their exclusion from government-subsidised medical care.

Dressed in yellow and waving banners reading "we are being discriminated against", the protesters asked to be included in the Thai government's new low-cost health scheme.

Some protesters, dressed in white, created a "human monument" meant to symbolise hope.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra swept to a landslide election victory in January this year on a raft of populist policies including a subsidised health scheme that slashed hospital consultation fees to 30 baht ($0.68) per visit.

But critics were angered the government did not include treatment for HIV/AIDS in the scheme.

"The government pharmaceutical organisation can manufacture many of these drugs, including triple therapy regimen, at less than $50 per month per person," said Jon Ungphakorn, a member of Thailand's upper house and an HIV/AIDS campaigner. "Tomorrow (December 1) is World AIDS Day and we want a significant gesture from the government so that people living with AIDS can lead a longer life, lead a healthier and good quality life and be with their families for a long time," he said.

According to the Thai Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS, the country has around 700,000 people who are either HIV positive or suffering from AIDS.

Around 100,000 - those with particularly vulnerable immune systems - need anti-viral treatment.

Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphun told protesters she agreed in principle that HIV/AIDS treatment should be included in the government's health scheme and said her ministry would propose funds to provide drugs to between 6,000 and 7,000 people.

Activists said they were encouraged by Sudarat's response, but wanted the government to supply cheap anti-AIDS drugs to all that needed them within three years.

"We tried pushing on anti-viral drugs, but the people at the ministry (of health) said it's not effective, expensive and the infrastructure is not ready," said Paisan Tan-Ud, chairman of the Thai Network for People living with HIV/AIDS.

"But today it seems like they've changed a little bit - much better than before," he said. ($1=44.05 baht).

CPT Home IP and Healthcare CPT page on Thailand