Cross-political support for accelerated HIV response in Myanmar
21 May 2012
A high-level United Nations delegation led by Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on AIDS in Asia, Dr Nafis Sadik visited Myanmar to take stock of the progress made and challenges remaining in the AIDS response.
During the visit, representatives from across the political spectrum in Myanmar underlined their commitment to speed up and enhance the country’s response to HIV to ensure that HIV services reach the communities most affected by the epidemic.
Vice President H.E. Dr Sai Mauk Kham, in conversations with Dr Sadik and her delegation, emphasized the need for an inclusive response to AIDS. “To deal with this epidemic, one of the top health challenges in Myanmar, the government, UN, non-governmental organizations and civil society need to work together,” said Vice President Kham.
Representatives from the networks of people living with HIV stressed their willingness to work in close collaboration with government and other partners to ensure effective results. They also highlighted the need to involve people living with HIV during the planning, design and implementation of AIDS programmes. “People living with and affected by HIV know better than anyone else what works and how to get the best impact,” said Myo Thant Aung, Chair of the national network for people living with HIV, Myanmar Positive Group.
To deal with this epidemic, one of the top health challenges in Myanmar, the government, UN, non-governmental organizations and civil society need to work together
Vice President H.E. Dr Sai Mauk Kham
The reduced funding available for HIV treatment and prevention was of major concern for Nobel laureate and General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi. During a meeting with Dr Sadik, Ms Suu Kyi stressed the importance of a sustained, well-managed response to AIDS in the country. “All the work needs to be closely monitored to assure accountability” said Ms Suu Kyi. She also highlighted the “importance of openness and compassion in government and the community” in the provision of HIV prevention and care programmes.
Dr Sadik called for a rapid increase in resources to ensure the sustainability of AIDS programmes in Myanmar. “Investment on AIDS in Myanmar from international and domestic sources needs to increase dramatically to assist people living with HIV and to prevent more people from becoming infected,” said Dr Sadik.
“In addition, laws, policies and practices that block access to HIV services for people living with and most affected by HIV need to be revised and removed. Only this will enable the provision of effective and sustainable HIV prevention and treatment services,” she added. The official visit to Myanmar was Dr Sadik’s last country missions as Special Envoy before the end of her tenure in July 2012.
In 2011, there were an estimated 216 000 people living with HIV in Myanmar and more than 40 000 adults and children received antiretroviral treatment of an estimated 120 000 people in need. According to the 2011 HIV Sentinel Surveillance data, HIV prevalence was 9.4%, among female sex workers, 21.9%, among people who inject drugs, 7.8% among men who have sex with men and 0.9% among pregnant women attending antenatal care services.
The United Nations delegation noted the significant progress made in the national AIDS response where despite limited resources, HIV prevalence among key populations at higher risk has begun to decline and the number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment has grown substantially. However, the delegation also highlighted that two thirds of people living with HIV do not yet have access to life saving treatment and that available financial resources for AIDS in the country are expected this year to fall below levels of 2011.
“Additional resources are needed to build upon the progress made to date,” said the member of the delegation and UNAIDS Director of the Asia Pacific Regional Support Team Steven Kraus. “The necessary scale-up of HIV services will not be possible without this accelerated response.”
During the seven-day country visit, Dr Sadik and the delegation also met with the Union Minister of Health, Union Minister for Labour and for Social Welfare, Attorney-General and chairpersons of parliamentary committees.