ACON played host this week to a delegation of AIDS workers from Thailand who are studying how the 21-year-old Sydney organisation deals with the health issues of HIV/AIDS.

Representatives from Bangkok-based Rainbow Sky, an organisation for Thailand’s GLBT community, have been working with ACON departments to learn about various HIV/AIDS campaigns and procedures.

The Thai delegates will also return at the end of February to witness how ACON manages large-scale campaigns through the Mardi Gras season.

An estimated 28 percent of gay men in Thailand are now HIV-positive, and in the past seven years Rainbow Sky has been one of the main Thai organisations leading the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Kamolset Kanggarnrua, secretary-general of Rainbow Sky, said the recent increases in HIV rates in Thailand among gay men and men having sex with men (MSM) have placed higher demands on the organisation.

Speaking through a translator, Kanggarnrua said it was important for the future existence of Rainbow Sky to have a partnership agreement with ACON.

Everything we learn from ACON has an application in Thailand, particularly how the organisation is run and its sustainability, he said.

We also need to learn about financing an organisation and working with volunteer groups, and how to do that well.

With the increase in infection rates in Thai MSM, Kanggarnrua believes additional funding for education programs is essential. He also believes it is Thai youth who require most attention.

The most important thing is working with the younger generation as they are now at such high risk, he said. We are trying to access this group in clubs and saunas to help them with health education about safe sex and how to protect themselves.

While Rainbow Sky is a GLBT association, Kanggarnrua explained almost all their campaigns target MSM, rather than specifically gay men.

In Thai culture, when they use the word -˜gay’, it leads to discrimination, he said.

Some of the men we are dealing with have sex with other men, even when they are married to a woman, so using the term of MSM is better for us.

ACON CEO Stevie Clayton told the Star Australia, which had been successful in keeping HIV rates low, had a responsibility to share its experience with other countries in the region still battling the extremes of the epidemic.

There are obviously lessons to learn from our response to prevention that is transportable to other places, Clayton said.

Some of the things we have been talking about with Rainbow Sky over the past few days have been the relationship with government, how to be accountable to your funding stakeholders and how to maintain a relationship with your community.

ACON has also received invaluable information from the Thai delegates about campaigns targeting Thai gay men in Sydney, who have recorded higher transmissions of HIV compared to men from other Asian backgrounds, Clayton said.

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