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The Journey of Universal Access to Antiretroviral Treatment in Thailand

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2 February 2017 – The experience of Thailand in creating an equitable health care system that provides universal access to life-saving treatment for people living with HIV should be held up as a model for other developing countries around the world, says a new report.

The report, titled The Journey of Universal Access to Antiretroviral Treatment in Thailand, is a collection of articles by respected Thai public health experts and advocates sharing valuable insights and practical lessons to inform policy makers and development practitioners working to address the HIV epidemic. It was developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the Thai National Health Security Office and the Thai Ministry of Public Health as part of facilitating South-South learning to support the efforts of other countries to achieve universal health coverage.

The report examines the evolution of achieving universal access to antiretroviral treatment (ART) through the perspectives of stakeholders at the policy and community levels.

“Thailand has succeeded in putting in place a health system that provides effective treatment, care and support services for people living with HIV, who are among the most marginalized and excluded in society. It has been proven to save lives, reduce inequalities and accelerate human development,” said Luc Stevens, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Thailand Resident Representative. “This is a significant public health accomplishment and is fully aligned with the underlying principle of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda - to leave no one behind.”

“Achieving universal access to antiretroviral treatment in Thailand has been a long journey. This report provides a comprehensive picture of the challenges and lessons learned of this experience,” said Dr. Sumet Ongwandee, Director, Bureau of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Sexual Transmitted Infections, Ministry of Public Health. “It is hoped that this resource will help transfer practical knowledge to other countries.” The lessons learned from Thailand are particularly relevant and timely as many developing countries are currently endeavouring to set up universal health coverage schemes as part of their efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Thailand has demonstrated that universal health coverage can be a promising national development strategy that respects, protects and fulfills fundamental human rights, and advances health equity and social justice with cascading human development gains that last over generations. It has also established a precedent that achieving effective, affordable and equitable universal health coverage using public finance is possible even in resource-limited countries.

Among the key learnings are the importance of providing special attention and dedicated investments to address the unique needs of marginalized and excluded populations, and maintaining a strong commitment to the participation of community groups at the centre of the HIV response.

The implementation of universal access to ART also contributed to the achievement of a major milestone in 2016 when Thailand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This is a significant step towards the SDG target of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

Ian Mungall, Programme Analyst, HIV, Health and Development, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub ian.mungall@undp.org