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The Burmese government will develop its HIV/AIDS programme to allow all patients in need of treatment to be able to access medication by 2015, according to a pledge announced last week.
It would seem a bold statement in a country known for its woeful healthcare system, and where the government allocates less than two percent of its annual budget to health.
Burma’s health minister, Dr Pe Thet Khin, announced the launch of the new five-year National Strategic Plan for AIDS in June, telling a workshop in Rangoon that the ministry was “committed to [supporting] the efforts of all partners and work in multi-sector partnership to reach programme targets by 2015”.
But according to Dr Sun Gang, the Burma country coordinator for UNAIDS, the signs are promising: he told DVB that anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment would increase year on year, with 30,200 patients given access by the end of this year, and the total 76,000 in need of treatment by 2015.
Others, however, are less optimistic: Thiha Kyaing, spokesperson of the Myanmar Positive Group, part of the network of the People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Burma, said that reality may not meet the rhetoric. “Now they are [theoretically] saying there will be medication for 70,000 HIV victims according to the plan, but to be honest, our country doesn’t have the budget to do this.”
A month-long course of ARV treatment in Burma can cost up to 30,000 kyat ($US40). According to the UN, 236,000 people are infected with HIV in Burma, with prevalence among sex workers around 11.2 percent, and 34.6 percent among injecting drug users.
Years of neglect by the government, who in 2007 spent just 0.9 percent of its annual budget on healthcare, has meant that overseas donors facilitate most of the country’s HIV treatment.
Despite a slowing of rates of infection, the situation remains worrying, with Burma’s HIV prevalence third highest in the region after Papua New Guinea and Thailand.