Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Burma faces Aids explosion (BBC News)

When I traveled to Myanmar last year, we were repeated told (and had read) that the opium/heroin trade has been greatly reduced in recent years, with many of the former drug lords moving into tourism services (restaurants, etc), although the latter was primarily in reference to Thailand. Thus, I found this recent story from the BBC to be shocking. Opium/heroin is still produced and open used in Myanmar (especially in the Shan State, which we traveled in), and is closely related to the rapid spread of aids in Thailand and along the heroin routes extending into neighboring countries. The worse part of this is absolute silence on this topic by Myanmar's government, which exasperates the problem and suffering of the people of Myanmar. International aids groups are at a quandry on how to help the people of Myanmar, without supporting the government.

Here is the first part of the BBC story. Go to the BBC website to listen to the corresponding audio story:

BBC News Burma faces Aids explosion

Burma is facing an Aids epidemic that will soon eclipse the worst situation in Africa, according to medical experts in Thailand.

It's the worst ever incidence of the disease in the region

Aids specialist Dr Chris Beyrer
United Nations statistics are at least two years out of date and could be understating true infection rates by at least half.

Aids specialist Dr Chris Beyrer, a US researcher at the John Hopkins University, says UN figures suggest 2% of adults in Burma have HIV, the virus that can lead to Aids. Dr Beyrer says the figure is nearer 4%.

His research, using government's figures for pregnant women and young men about to enter the army, found there were 3.5% with HIV.

Drug addicts
Infections are at their highest in border areas
Adding vulnerable groups, such as drug users and itinerant workers, and the figure more than doubles - potentially more than 7% of the population is infected with HIV.

The explosion of the disease in Shan state is even more frightening. Dr Beyrer estimates that more than 10% of the adult male population there is now suffering from HIV.

'That's the worst ever incidence of the disease in the region,' he says.

'It's on the level of that which hit northern Thailand a decade ago. The difference then was the Thai Government recognised it and did something about it, whereas the military junta are allowing this one to rage out of control.'

. . . click to go to full story and audio

SEE ALSO: NYTime Travel Section: Treading Lightly on the Road to Mandalay