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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Burma Faces AIDS Explosion
Larry Jagan
September 27, 2001
BBC News (09.25.01) - Thursday, September 27, 2001

Medical experts say Burma is facing an AIDS epidemic that will soon eclipse the worst situation in Africa. AIDS specialist Dr. Chris Beyrer of Johns Hopkins University said that while UN figures suggest that 2 percent of adults in Burma have HIV, he believes the figure is nearer to 4 percent. His research, using the government's figures for pregnant women and for men about to enter the army, found that 3.5 percent were HIV- positive. When vulnerable groups like drug users and itinerant workers were added, the rate more than doubles -indicating that potentially 7 percent of the population is infected.

In the Shan state, Beyrer estimated that 10 percent of adult males are infected. "That's the worst ever incidence of the disease in the region," he said. "It's on the level of that which hit northern Thailand a decade ago. The difference then was the Thai government recognized it and did something about it, whereas the military junta are allowing this one to rage out of control. In recent weeks, prominent Burmese officials, including the head of state, have defended the military government's record on AIDS.

But diplomats and UN officials in Rangoon believe that the Burmese generals have, for more than a year, begun to recognize that the country is facing a major AIDS problem. At the beginning of this year, military intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt told the Myanmar Times that HIV/AIDS "is a national disease. If we ignore it, it will destroy entire races." Health experts say knowledge of the disease remains "abysmally low" in others. AIDS workers in the Kachin state, which borders China, say the region has seen a massive death toll, and in some villages every family has lost someone to the disease.

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