HIV and AIDS in Myanmar

Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, is seen by many as reclusive. Its real HIV and AIDS situation is a mystery to most people, although Burmese officials claim that they are making progress in AIDS prevention. This claim is backed up by independent experts and AIDS researchers in the country, despite what some called its "unethical" abandonment by international AIDS organizations.

At a discussion at the 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), the participants heard information that HIV prevalence rates in Myanmar have been falling among intravenous drug users, mothers who passed on the virus to their babies and military recruits. With this at hand, experts said that a lot of resources are needed if the country is determined to continue with its efforts to address HIV and AIDS. This appeal is hard pressed, especially when many donors and external agencies have restrictions on providing aid to a military-ruled country with a human rights record that have been under scrutiny by different governments and groups.

More than 20,000 people die of AIDS annually in Myanmar, and several experts said that international aid is much needed to further alleviate the number of deaths. They argued that HIV and AIDS are a humanitarian issue and stressed that foreign aid can reach the people of Myanmar effectively.

For 2007, the government has US$28 million for its work on HIV and AIDS, but needs $41.7 million. In 2008, Burmese officials said that their government needs $57.9 million but can only identify sources for getting $26.5 million. This funding comes from some foreign governments, development agencies, and some international non-government and humanitarian groups. Both the World Bank and Asian Development Bank are not present in the country.

Burma’s Deputy Health Minister Mya Oo said the government was trying its best despite resource constraints, especially after the Global Fund to Fight Malaria, Tuberculosis, and AIDS "unilaterally and abruptly terminated" its program in August 2005. The fund said it could not carry out its programs because of restriction by the junta. However, several groups are determined to help Myanmar’s AIDS problem, such as the Swedish government.

Researchers estimate the HIV and AIDS prevalence rate in Myanmar at 0.67 percent as of 2007, much lower from previous estimates of 2.2 percent in a country of 50 million. This translates to 230,000 adults living with HIV and AIDS, 6,000 children and 13,000 new infections among adults.

However, only one in ten AIDS patients in Myanmar get the antiretroviral therapy they need.

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