Burma’s Military Government ‘Practically Ignored’ Country’s AIDS Epidemic Until Last Year, Observers Say
Many observers say that the military government of Burma, an "impoverished" nation that has only two hospitals with AIDS wards, until last year "practically ignored" the country's AIDS epidemic, causing a "dire situation," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. UNAIDS estimates that the country, which has a population of 48 million, had 400,000 HIV-positive people by the end of 2001, or just under 1% of the 15- to 49-year-old adult population. However, the junta has said that the number of HIV-positive people in the country is much lower, citing a culture that stresses abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage. State-run AIDS prevention campaigns have stressed monogomy over the use of condoms and clean needles. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health who has worked with the World Health Organization in Burma, said, "There has been a complete failure [in the case of AIDS] on so many levels. ... The health care system is in collapse, grossly underfunded and neglected by the junta," adding, "The junta has been a disaster." However, Tony Lisle, UNAIDS' director for Southeast Asia, said that in the past 18 months there has been an "absolute groundswell of change in Myanmar," adding that the military government has finally recognized AIDS as a "serious issue." Lisle said that the government has begun a needle-exchange program, an AIDS awareness advertising campaign and a soap opera that addresses AIDS and condom use, and it has appointed a prominent doctor as the new minister of health. One Western health care worker said, "It's all moving in the right direction" (Frankel, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.