Nobel peace prize winner and Member of Parliament Aung San Suu Kyi calls on her fellow citizens and people around the globe to eliminate stigma and discrimination, which people living with HIV often face. On Friday, the leader of the National League for Democracy welcomed UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé to her residence in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar. The two leaders spoke at length about how to overcome stigma and discrimination of all marginalized groups.
Mr Sidibé thanked Aung San Suu Kyi for her leadership on AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic in Myanmar as well as her global statements against stigma and discrimination, such as at the World AIDS Conference in Washington D.C., earlier this year. In their discussion, Mr Sidibé asked why she spoke out strongly and early on the issue of AIDS when there were so many important issues for her to consider. Aung San Suu Kyi responded that similar to other issues that she is closely focused on “addressing AIDS requires openness and compassion. Responding to AIDS can be seen as a contribution to positive human relations.”
Currently there are slightly over 30% of people living with HIV eligible for treatment who are receiving treatment in Myanmar. Mr Sidibé said, “Myanmar has the potential to quickly scale-up and reach 85% coverage of those in need of ARVs. We are in a race against time to get resources and save many lives. But, the final mile will not be easy.” Aung San Suu Kyi agreed, “Our country is trying to run the last mile. That last mile is the most difficult. If we collapse then we don’t get to our goal and the possibility of collapse is greatest during the last mile – you don’t get second wins.”
There are an estimated 216,000 people living with HIV and HIV prevalence is estimated at 0.53% for adults. Myanmar has an epidemic concentrated mainly in the following groups: sex workers and their clients, drug users and men who have sex with men and their sexual partners. As in many other countries key affected populations in Myanmar face stigma and discrimination which hamper their access to prevention. A person living with HIV who also comes from a key affected population often struggles under a heavy double dose of stigma, which prevents their access to care, treatment and support.
Aung San Suu Kyi said that social fear and stigma often stop people from getting an HIV test and knowing their status early, which hampers their access to early HIV treatment. Aung San Suu Kyi has been a strong champion of the AIDS movement. She has publically embraced people living with HIV as a sign of her efforts to counter stigma and discrimination. Earlier this year at a major international AIDS conference in Washington DC, USA, she delivered a message via video link, supporting people living with HIV.
Mr Sidibé thanked her for her support and hoped that her example would inspire other community leaders in Myanmar and around the world to speak out against stigma and discrimination.