Thailand has become a massive drawcard for Chinese gay men looking to source PrEP.
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a HIV preventative drug. When taken at the recommended dosage is highly effective at stopping the transmission of HIV.
The PrEP drug – Truvada – is available as an antiretroviral treatment for HIV in China. But it is not yet available as a HIV preventative drug.
A 2017 study revealed Chinese men who have sex with men (MSM) were highly likely to use PrEP if it were available to them. The rate of new HIV notifications in China grew in 2016 with China accounting for about 3% of new notifications globally.
HIV is growing fastest amongst young MSM. A 2016 report showed HIV transmission rates among students at one city’s universities increased 43% annually in five years.
Thailand a hot spot for lots of reasons
Thailand is an attractive place for Chinese tourists to access PrEP because they don’t need a visa to enter. It is also widely regarded as one of Asia’s most friendly place for LGBTI people.
Xiao Dong heads up Beijing’s the Tongzhi Men’s Health organization and he knows of about 100 men who travel to Thailand to get PrEP.
‘It’s a positive sign that our community has become more responsible for our own health, and each other’s. They are willing to pay out of pocket,’ he told The Nation.
PrEP is also a lot more affordable in Thailand. The generic brand PrEP costs about 300 yuan ($44) monthly.
The brand-name drugs sell for about 800 yuan ($117) in Thailand but in China they can cost as much as 2000 yuan ($295) monthly.
The infectious diseases department at You’an Hospital will run a PrEP trial later this year for between 600-1000 men. But its director, Wu Hao, is doubtful the Chinese government will make PrEP free for its citizens.
Beijing’s You’an Hospital treats almost all of the city’s HIV patients. In 2016 about 90% of new cases were gay men.
‘I welcome PrEP as prevention for those who are at high risk of infection, given that condom use is low, particularly among gay men in China,’ Wu said.