UNAIDS Global Advocate for Zero Discrimination and Member of Parliament, Aung San Suu Kyi joined more than 200 people living with and affected by HIV for an AIDS Candlelight Memorial Vigil on 26 May in Yangon, Myanmar. The event, organized by a consortium of community networks, is one of many taking place around the world this month to commemorate people who have died of AIDS-related causes.
Aung San Suu Kyi called for greater solidarity to end stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV and key populations at higher risk of infection. “Respect for the human rights of people living with HIV must be promoted,” said the Nobel Peace Prize Winner. “We also need to protect the people who live on the fringes of society who struggle every day to maintain their dignity and basic human rights. I believe that with true compassion - the invisible cord that binds us to other human beings regardless of race, personal status, religion and national borders - we can get results for all people.”
Representatives from networks of people living with HIV and key affected populations of people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men, together with women and children participated in the event. They called for more support to strengthen the capacity of people living with HIV and civil society organizations to meaningfully engage in the response to AIDS and to end stigma and discrimination. Tin Hlaing from the National NGOs Alliance on HIV/AIDS said, “We are calling on the government and local organizations to provide job opportunities for people who are now on antiretroviral treatment and healthy”.
According to the National AIDS Programme, in 2012 there were around 225 000 people living with HIV in Myanmar and more than 15 000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses. Progress has been made in the response to AIDS in the country. More than 54 000 people eligible for HIV treatment are receiving it, compared to 29 000 people three years ago. However, much more needs to be done because more than 50% of people living with HIV are still in need of treatment.
Heralding Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to HIV and the elimination of HIV-related discrimination, UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Eamonn Murphy, emphasized the growing momentum of the AIDS response in Myanmar. “All partners in Myanmar are working closely together to scale-up antiretroviral treatment services, with the hope to double the number of people on treatment by 2015.” He also added that Myanmar was one of the first countries to participate as an early applicant to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (Global Fund) New Funding Model. The Global Fund has initially allocated up to US$ 161 million for HIV for the period 2013-2016. Pending grant approval from the Global Fund’s Board in mid-June, the additional investments for HIV will cover high impact interventions for HIV prevention, testing and counseling and treatment.