HIV patients evicted ‘for health reasons’

Some 80 men and women are being evicted from a shelter for HIV patients in Rangoon because conditions there could exacerbate the disease, government officials have said.

The order last week for the patients to leave made international headlines, coming as it did only a day after released Burmese opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi paid a visit. The International AIDS Society (IAS) said yesterday that the move by the junta was “political” and called for it to withdraw the eviction.

“The IAS condemns this inflexible approach,” it said. “Patients should be free to choose where they seek treatment. In addition, any interruption or change to care could have irreversible repercussions for the health of the patients.”

But an article in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper today said that the choice was made after health officials deemed the conditions unsafe for patients.

“…as there are many patients at the shelter with a limited space for [them] it can be the sources of drug-resistant TB cases which are the complications of HIV/AIDS,” it said. “The team told them that allowing patients with the infectious disease live together in such a condition could make their health worse.”

As a result, the officials “urged those from the shelter to send the patients to Special Hospital (Thakayta) as preparations have already been made at the facility”.

The clinic, known as the HIV/AIDS Patients Care Centre, is run by a colleague of Suu Kyi’s at the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Phyu Phyu Thin. Officials told him that if it is not shut down by 25 November, he and the patients will be prosecuted.

According to IAS, there are an estimated 240,000 people infected with HIV in Burma. UN figures estimate that 18 percent of female sex workers and nearly one in three gay and bisexual men are carriers.

The disease continues to be heavily stigmatised: the Burmese government last year marked World AIDS Day with an article in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper linking the disease to “socially unacceptable behaviour”.

The IAS president, Elly Katabira, said that “all efforts, whether they be government or charitable initiatives, should be allowed and supported. Only a combined effort will reduce the ongoing epidemic in the country”.

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