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Myanmar’s HIV/AIDS sufferers still neglected despite Aung San’s attention

People endure discrimination because of poor education and lack of HIV/AIDS awareness

A nun cares for a patient at the Hope Center A nun cares for a patient at the Hope Center
  • ucanews.com reporter, Myitkyina
  • Myanmar
  • January 20, 2011
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The release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has boosted awareness of HIV/AIDS in Myanmar, claims a leading figure in the country’s National League for Democracy (NLD). But those living with HIV/AIDS say discrimination against them remains rife.

Activist and NLD youth leader Phyu Phyu Thin told the Irrawaddy newspaper: "We have worked on HIV/AIDS projects since 2002, but no one seemed to recognize our accomplishments. However, once Aung San Suu Kyi was released, the world suddenly became aware of our social projects.” The NLD’s main such project provides three shelters in Yangon that house about 100 HIV/AIDS patients and provide food, bedding, anti-retroviral treatments and other drugs.

But away from the capital, care workers report that the stigma against the disease still acts as a barrier to treatment.

Spread of the virus has been worsened as sufferers are ostracized when people "find out one of their family members contracted the virus," retired nurse Lucy Joi told ucanews.com. She works at the Church-run Hope Center, a facility in the north of the country which is like a home for patients whose relatives and families cannot cope and for those who live in the mountain villages, too far away to receive regular medical support.

Lucy believes people have to endure rejection and discrimination as a punishment because of poor education among the people and lack of HIV/AIDS awareness. There are an estimated 240,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers in Myanmar, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations program tackling the virus.

The center, run by the Columban Sisters, provides temporary shelter, food and medical treatment in collaboration with an AZG clinic. Currently the center takes care of some 50 patients, most aged from 30 to 50. U Win, a Buddhist from Mohnyin in northern Myanmar, at the center with his seven-year-old son, said that when he learned he had contracted the virus "I did not talk about this to others because I was so afraid that my neighbors and friends would avoid me. When my wife found out herself she was HIV positive, she argued for me to check also, and I found myself infected with HIV. Then, finally, we decided to check our son and he also had contracted the virus.”

U Cho, 41, lost his wife to the virus four years ago. He said: “I was discriminated [against] very badly because of the virus. Most of the patients have to die because of very little support and help in this situation. If these patients could get proper and sufficient treatment, there would be many more possibilities that we could live longer.”

But U Cho added that he had recovered and was able to return home - thanks to support from the center.

MY12857.1637
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