Sunday, December 2, 2007

World AIDS Day Means Little in Burma

December 1 was the 20th World AIDS Day and people around the word celebrated and commemorated the occasion. However, in Burma, HIV/AIDS activists and volunteers are being arrested and hunted down daily by the military authorities.

Phyu Phyu Thin, a well-known HIV/AIDS activist and member of the National League for Democracy, who was active in the recent demonstrations, is now in hiding from the security forces while several youth members of the NLD who were working with her group of nationwide volunteers have either been arrested or are in hiding too.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy by telephone from her hiding place on Friday, Phyu Phyu Thin said that since 2002 the volunteer group has taken care of more than 1,800 persons living with HIV/AIDS throughout the country.

This year alone, they have taken in about 600 new persons living with HIV/AIDS. Of those, about 200 patients are now directly under their care, while another 40 patients are receiving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs from their group.

“The hunting down and arresting of HIV/AIDS workers is not only disturbing for us, but is also disappointing and discouraging for the patients,” she said, adding that the group now has to recruit new volunteers to replace those who have been arrested or have had to go into hiding. The volunteers take on several duties, including buying medicine for the patients and helping to arrange treatment with various NGOs.

According to Yazar, a colleague of Phyu Phyu Thin, many of the HIV/AIDS patients are wives and children of bus drivers and fishermen who often have contact with sex workers.

This year, he said, the group has taken in many pregnant women who have been infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, while about 18 persons, including one child, had died while under their care.

He claimed that the patients usually died because they did not recognize their symptoms in time, were misdiagnosed or received poor treatment.

Yarzar added that since July 2006, when HIV/AIDS clinics stopped supplying ARV drugs to new patients, many victims of the disease have come directly to the volunteer group.

ARV treatment is available in Rangoon through the AZG clinic run by French-based Médecins Sans Frontières and the Rangoon Infectious Diseases Hospital [Wai Bar Gi].

However, limited funds are available and several patients must be referred to local NGOs, such as Yankin Yate Mon, who specifically treat patients who have contracted the virus from drug usage.

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