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HIV quietly skyrockets in Burma

in MYANMAR, 09/03/2011

Not only are anti-retroviral meds scarce, many Burmese don't know the virus exists

In recent years, Burma (also called Myanmar) has solidified its standing as one of the worst places to contract HIV.

The latest to document the reclusive nation's HIV/AIDS woes is the Globe and Mail, which reports the government is treating "only the sickest" patients. Young men well into their illness are being sent home, writes journalist Mark MacKinnon.

Only those clinging to life get drugs. Why? Because of the roughly 242,000 Burmese with HIV, according to the Globe and Mail, only 20,000 can get their hands on much-needed medicine.

Those medicines are anti-retrovirals: drugs largely responsible for transforming HIV from a death sentence to a chronic illness.

But that promise is only available to those who can access the drugs. Though they've plummeted in price, relieving some of the worst-hit parts of Africa, they're still scarce in Burma. As of 2008, according to the U.N., Burma's government spent only 0.3 percent of its GDP on health -- less than any other country on the planet.

There are other factors at play, according to this Inter-Press Report that blames rising HIV rates on laws criminalizing male-on-male sex. In Yangon, Burma's largest city, nearly 30 percent of new HIV cases are among gay men, according to the report.

And as for HIV awareness in Burma? Many foreign relief workers report that sick men and women first learn about the disease when they show up sick to clinics in Yangon.

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