Beginning a successful acting and modeling career at the age of 13, Praya Lundberg has appeared in many of Thailand’s hit TV shows and has graced the covers of magazines such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Harper’s Bazaar. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in law from Oxford Brookes University in the UK, she has also made time to give a TEDx talk to young people and volunteer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and HIV support programs in Thailand. The Thai-Swedish actress is a dedicated supporter of the HIV/AIDS cause, helping to combat stigma and raise awareness. The TREAT Asia Report spoke with Ms. Lundberg about her work and her goals.
Praya Lundberg at the TREAT Asia office in Bangkok in August 2016
TREAT Asia Report: How did you become involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
Praya Lundberg: I started volunteering at an AIDS home a few years back and I still visit frequently. I became close to many of the patients, some of whom have already passed away. I got to know the disease and to see firsthand what it does to people I care about. It was a pivotal moment for me; I realized that to help these patients I truly needed to support the effort to find a cure to finally eradicate AIDS! In Thailand, there aren’t enough people speaking out about AIDS, and we have a responsibility to increase awareness in order to raise funds for research and to fight AIDS discrimination.
TREAT Asia Report: What has been the main focus of your efforts?
Lundberg: Thailand has had significant success with HIV prevention and research in the past few years. I have helped raise funds for AIDS research, but I would really like to focus on stigma and discrimination. In Thailand AIDS is still misunderstood and feared. As an actress, I'm privileged to have a voice I can use to help Thais understand that we need to support and love those who are infected with HIV. It is my duty to help the public understand how HIV can be prevented, how it can be tested for, and how it is transmitted--and why there is no reason to fear anyone with HIV/AIDS.
Ms. Lundberg visiting patients with HIV in Bangkok
TREAT Asia Report: How does HIV-related stigma affect people living with HIV in Thailand?
Lundberg: In Thailand, despite the many efforts to raise awareness, AIDS discrimination remains a prevalent issue. Many fear those with HIV/AIDS. People living with AIDS are often shunned by their loved ones, and some are unemployed and unable to return to a normal life. It is still quite a sensitive topic for Thais.
Ms. Lundberg at the amfAR Milano fundraising gala in 2016TREAT Asia Report: What should be done to combat stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV?
Lundberg: The most powerful way to end discrimination is to speak up and lead by example. With the media attention I receive from visiting patients, we are able to show the public that there is nothing to be afraid of. The worrying issue in Thailand about discrimination and AIDS stigma is that it causes many to be afraid to get tested or to seek treatment, as they don't want to feel judged—especially transgender people who are most at risk.
TREAT Asia Report: How do you think we can better engage Asian young people in the HIV response?
Lundberg: I think if we create educational programs for children beginning at a young age, and include young adults in teaching the children, we can instill a compassionate and true understanding of what HIV/AIDS is and how it can be prevented. It would be an effective, powerful way to make a change on a larger scale and would influence the younger generations to want to get involved in the fight against AIDS.