The U.N. warned Tuesday that progress in the treatment and reduction of HIV/AIDS cases in Burma could be reversed if increased funding and other resources for programs to fight the deadly disease in the country are not found.
U.N. officials on a visit to Burma this week noted that HIV infection rates in Burma have begun to drop and that growing numbers of infected Burmese are receiving treatment, but warned that two-thirds of people living with HIV in the country remain untreated, and that financial support for treatment and prevention programs is expected to decline.
“If additional resources are not made available for, and within, Myanmar, even the gains of the past years will be lost, and the badly needed scale-up of services will not happen,” UNAIDS Director and delegation member Steven Kraus said, according to a statement by the Office of the U.N. Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in the country.
As of last year, an estimated 216,000 people were believed to be living with HIV in the formerly military-ruled country, also called Myanmar, according to data provided by the U.N.
Burmese opposition leader and member of parliament Aung San Suu Kyi shared her concern at the prospect of reduced funding and noted the importance of community-based efforts to prevent HIV and to care for those infected.
To be effective, she added, programs must be sustained and well-managed.
“All the work needs to be closely monitored to assure accountability,” she said.
Last November, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an international public-private scheme to combat the three diseases, said that it would not hand out any more funds for scaling up AIDS treatments until 2014 because of tightening budgets in donor countries.
U.N. Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific Dr. Nafis Sadik said investment on AIDS in Burma needs to “increase dramatically” from international sources to assist those who are living with HIV and to prevent more people from becoming infected.
“Increased government budget allocation to AIDS work is also needed,” she noted at the conclusion of a week-long official visit at the head of a high-level U.N. delegation.
“Furthermore, laws, policies, and programmes that block access to services for people living with and most affected by HIV need to be revised and removed,” she said.
“Only this will enable the provision of effective and sustainable prevention and treatment services,” she added.
Burma’s vice president Dr. Sai Mauk Kham pledged continued official commitment to addressing HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, as “prominent public health problems” in the country, according to the statement.
“[Burma’s] government is working in close collaboration with the UN, non-governmental organizations, local freelance philanthropic organizations and civil society in its response to HIV.”
Last Thursday, in a gesture acknowledging the beginning of political reforms in Burma, the United States announced an easing of investment and financial restrictions, but said it will maintain wider sanctions amid ongoing concerns over human rights abuses and ethnic conflict.
The two countries also announced they will exchange ambassadors to reflect the improvement in bilateral relations.
Reported by Richard Finney.