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Global Fund could return to Burma

July 27, 2009 (DVB), A medical funding group that withdrew from Burma in 2005 is considering returning to the country in a move that would inject millions of dollars into tripling the amount of people receiving treatment for AIDS.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is now in the process of making a decision for an application by the Burmese government for $US320 million.

It is hoped that the extra funding will see 42,000 AIDS patients treated within the next five years.

However in 2005 The Global Fund terminated its $US19,200,000 grant for HIV/AIDS in Burma after the government imposed restrictions on the travel of its staff, which meant they would be unable to visit grant implementation areas.

The latest proposal is yet to be passed, but it is expected that the organisation will make a final decision at the end of August.

Mark Farmaner, from Burma Campaign UK, believes however that nothing has changed since The Global Fund left Burma.

"Burma has travel restrictions on NGO workers like no other country in the world," he said.

"It is hard to see how they can justify going back into Burma without challenging those restrictions."

It is estimated that 240,000 people are infected by the HIV virus and 76,000 are in need of life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. Of those, only 18,000 are receiving proper medical treatment and as a result 25,000 people are dying per year.

The cost of treatment equates to $30 per month which is the same as the average Burmese salary, leaving many outside of its reach.

Medicines Sans Frontiers MSF) has been providing treatment to around 12,000 people across Burma and small NGOs have covered around 4,000. The government provides for 1,800.

It is only in the last ten years that the government has acknowledged the HIV/Aids epidemic in Burma.

Aid groups have criticised the regime for not investing enough money to tackle the epidemic, with only 0.3 percent of the annual budget being spent on healthcare.

The departure of The Global Fund from Burma left Medicine Sans Frontiers as the main provider of anti-retroviral drugs and treatment.

In its 'Preventable Fate' report, MSF explained that there was a substantial lack of funding for HIV treatment which was "pushing it to its limit and had to make the painful decision to drastically cut the number of patients they could treat."

The Burmese government has often been criticised for its treatment of NGO workers and lack of transparency.

Following cyclone Nargis in May 2008, the Burmese government delayed aid into the country and was then accused by NGOs of profiting from the increased funding.

Aid groups criticised the government for profiting from the margin between the dollar and the value of the Foreign Exchange Certificates, which NGOs had to withdraw money in.

Clarification – The original story wrongly stated that Mark Farmaner had said it was unlikely The Global Fund would return to Burma. Mr Farmaner has pointed out that the quote is not accurate, and the appropriate changes have been made.

Reporting by Alex Ellgee


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