Myanmar Facing Serious HIV/AIDS Epidemic, Health Officials SayMyanmar could soon undergo an AIDS epidemic that would "eclipse the worst situation in Africa," according to Thai health experts and U.S. researchers, BBC News reports. Dr. Chris Beyrer, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said that data gathered from the United Nations indicates that Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has an HIV infection rate of 2% among adults. However, Beyrer said that these figures "are at least two years out of date," and his own research has found that approximately 3.5% of adults are HIV-positive. He added that infection rates may be more than 7% among "vulnerable groups," such as drug users and migrant workers. U.N. officials and AIDS experts have also expressed concern about HIV infection rates in Myanmar's border regions, "where drug use and the movement of labor is high." Beyrer said that in the border region of Shan, more than 10% of adult men are HIV-positive. AIDS experts and U.N. representatives say that, in general, knowledge about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it is "abysmally low" among people in Myanmar.
Beyrer criticized the government of Myanmar for not doing more to stem the spread of the epidemic in the border regions. HIV infection in these peripheral areas is "on the level of that which hit northern Thailand a decade ago," he said, adding that "the difference then was the Thai government recognized it and did something about it, whereas the military junta are allowing this one to rage out of control." Myanmar Health Minister Maj. Gen. Ket Sein told a World Health Organization meeting earlier this month that "contrary to the gloomy picture presented in some reports in the western media, HIV/AIDS is not rampant" in Myanmar. The country's head of state, Gen. Than Shwe, and its military intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, have recently "defended the military government's record on AIDS," but U.N. officials say that "behind this rigorous denial, the ... generals have for more than a year begun to recognize that the country is facing a major AIDS problem." Nyunt said that it is "difficult ... culturally" to promote condom use, but added that the government has introduced a "mass prevention campaign" (BBC News, 9/25).