Thai youths were at risk of catching HIV as many had their first sexual encounter at 15 and nearly half did not use condoms, the Public Health Ministry revealed Thursday.

Recent reports indicated many youths did not use conฌdoms due to faith in their partner and the "myth" HIV/Aids was only spread by prostitutes, a spokesman said.

Presiding over a campaign launch yesterday to mark World Aids Day o­n Saturday, Dr Somchai Pinyopornpanich, deputy head of the Disease Control Department, cited recent reports that said at least 33 million people were living with HIV or Aids worldwide.

Of these< script>< /script> 2.3 million were children under 15, and some 2.9 million had died of the disease last year.

This year 4.3 million new infections were expected to emerge, with about 40 per cent among youths aged 15 to 24, he said.

had seen a steep decline in infections. Some 14,000 new cases were expected this year - down from 140,000 new cases per year in the 90s.

It was estimated that about o­ne million Thais had HIV or Aids and more than half of these had died, Somchai said.

Many of the new infections were young women while some 45 per cent were housewives and 20 per cent homosexuals.

Somchai said the disease remained the country's major health concern. A worrying trend, he said, was that youths and teenagers faced a high risk of catching HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) because some had sex to impress their peers, and believed the disease was o­nly spread via sex workers.

As a result teenagers assumed having sex with friends or acquaintances was safe and did not use any protection, he said.

Somchai said a report o­n STDs and risky behaviour last year found less than 50 per cent of youths who had casual sex used condoms, and the age they first had sex was about 15 years old - well down from the previous figure of 18 years old.

Meanwhile, a survey o­n Thai youths' knowledge about Aids last year found o­nly 23 per cent of males and 26 per cent of females could answer questions about the disease correctly.

Dr Patchara Siriwongrangsan, director of the Aids, TB and STD Office, said staff had been working o­n disease control among youths since last year, by training batches of mature teenagers to undertake Aids prevention work at clubs and school activities.< script>< /script>

Some 52 schools in 15 provinces participated in the campaign and so far some 28,000 students had been training and joined Aids prevention activities. Awareness activities were also held in 16 communities, she said.

The launch Thursday also featured a discussion o­n Aids led by famous psychologist Dr Sukamol Vipavipolakul, a rally for 200 students from greater Bangkok to learn about the dis
ease through various activities, and a contest for youth representatives to promote public awareness about Aids.

The youth representatives will join a campaign tour that meets the press Friday.

HIV/AIDS Technical Working Group hivaids-twg
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