Fighting Aids in Burma

Source : Dr Frank Smithuis, MSF Holland (Bangkok Post)

The story in the Post (Nov 17) on Burma's Aids situation, "Health experts fear Aids out of control", in which I was quoted (somewhat incorrectly and out of context), gives a wrong impression and needs further explanation for a better understanding of the situation.

The article says that nothing is being done about Aids. That is incorrect. National and international organisations (including the medical organisation which I represent) are working on HIV education and prevention in Burma for several years now. Compared to 5-10 years ago, the country has started to accept the existence of an Aids problem and in addition has gradually started to open up to international organisations.

Nevertheless, it should be said that more needs to be done, both with regard to Aids recognition and to Aids prevention activities. But there remain some obstacles.

For one, Aids in Burma has become politicised. Governments and political groups are using the Aids epidemic as a political tool, in order to make accusations. As a consequence, the situation is either exaggerated or hidden, in order to prove each other wrong. This is counter-productive.

Secondly, international aid to Burma is very limited for political (boycott) reasons. External funding for Aids programmes is very small for the same reason.

I would argue that funding for Aids programmes should be exempted from a boycott as, whatever political side one is on, it is the population that is ultimately affected. And the Aids epidemic is not limited by time or geography and will intensify problems for any future regime and possibly neighbouring countries.

A start has been made to tackle the Aids problem in Burma, but more is needed. Increased aid, de-politi-cisation, and acknowledgment of the epidemic by all players are essential for further prevention. Bickering over estimates of the number infected is not. No matter what the number of HIV-positive people, the epidemic is an urgent problem and the need for action is the same.