Wednesday, June 06, 2007


The military junta ruling Burma has taken into custody several activist (including Ko Tin Ko pictured here) who are living with HIV. This comes as no big surprise in a county whose rulers have no use for activists or people with HIV.

As IPS has reported, the junta's unsympathetic stance towards people with HIV in Burma adds to a growing list of concerns that have earned it notoriety. The current estimates by UNAIDS and other international agencies of people with HIV in Burma range from 360,000 to 610,000 people. The adult prevalence rate stood at between 1.3 percent to 2.2 percent people infected of the country's 50 million people.

‘'Myanmar has one of the most serious epidemics in the region,'' UNAIDS stated in its 2006 annual report earlier this year. The infection rates exceed those in the two other South-east Asian countries that had long been viewed as the epicentre of the deadly virus in the region -- Cambodia, which has a 1.6 percent adult HIV prevalence rate, and Thailand, which has a 1.4 percent adult prevalence.

In August last year, the junta succeeded, after imposing tough internal travel restrictions, to force the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to quit the country.

‘'Rather than helping people with HIV, the military regime tries to isolate them and create problems between them and the rest of the people who do not have HIV,'' Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner, himself told IPS. ‘'It does not want anyone to speak loudly about AIDS. If you do, you get into trouble.''

Just a few weeks ago five male and two female police officers who identified themselves as belonging to the Ministry of Home Affairs took Phyu Phyu Thinn, an outspoken critic of the country's AIDS policy, into custody at her home in Rangoon.

In January, Phyu Phyu Thinn publicly complained that Rangoon facilities treating HIV/AIDS patients had stopped providing antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for new patients because supplies were exhausted.

In an interview before her detention, Phyu Phyu Thinn suggested that mortality among AIDS patients in Burma could be far higher than the official tally-and climbing since NGO clinics had stopped giving out ARVs.

"Currently, we are sending many patients to hospitals and clinics. We are constantly in touch with the patients," Phyu Phyu Thinn said May 15. "When patients learned that they weren't getting more ARVs, many people became discouraged and died."

Throughout Burma, she said, "we know that the death rate from this disease is high."

"ARV medication is no longer distributed in NGO clinics. Because of that, we are seeing an increase in the number of deaths.People don't know that there are medicines like these, and they don't know how to treat [this disease] either," she said. "We find in some places that they are treating it with Burmese herbal medicines. When it is treated this way, not only is it ineffective, they spend a lot of money, and it endangers their lives."

"We can't reduce the death rate with such little help. Many people still need ARV medicines that can control HIV. Until these medicines can be put directly into the hands of patients throughout the country, the death rate will be high."

The ruling junta doesn't keep a record of AIDS deaths, she said, suggesting mortality may be far higher than reported. "For some, when they die at home, on the death certificates, they list all kinds of other diseases but do not mention that it is from HIV/AIDS. In some regions, there are many who didn't go to the hospitals or clinics. They didn't know they had HIV/AIDS and so they died from it. Actually, the authorities should be working on it systematically-what is the rate of those dying from HIV and the cause of death? They're not doing these things.There are no instructions, and they don't want people to know about it, so they are not paying attention to this matter. Whatever the cause of death is, they just leave it be."

Phyu Phyu Thinn's younger sister, Ma Sabeh Oo, said her sister's previous detention turned her into an activist. "In the year 2000, she traveled with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, there was some commotion, and she was arrested and put in prison."

"In prison, she saw the opposition government. She realized that everyone had sacrificed for this work. She saw many people in prison like that. It outraged her, and she made a decision right there in prison that she would become involved in politics. She was imprisoned for more than four months. Then she was released. She began to do this work after her release."

Phyu Phyu Thinn is a member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, whose ranks have been decimated in recent years by arrests and harassment.

The following is from the Democratic Voice of Burma.

Eleven HIV-positive activists detained by military

Eleven activists living with HIV in Burma were detained by police yesterday after being lured to the Weibagi hospital in Rangoon with promises of free treatment.

The activists, including high-profile campaigner Ko Tin Ko, have reportedly angered the military over the past few weeks by repeatedly calling for the release of detained aid worker Ma Phyu Phyu Thin.

Phyu Phyu Thin, who was arrested by the authorities on May 21, worked for the National League for Democracy and ran a small clinic that provided free antiretroviral treatment and accommodation to a group of at least 30 HIV-positive people from around the country.

Phyu Phyu Thin’s sister, Ma Sabai Oo, told DVB that the group of activists had been told by the authorities to be at Weibagi hospital at 9am yesterday to receive free medication.

“After they were taken, they never returned . . . so we rang the hospital and we were told that [the authorities] evacuated a room at the hospital yesterday and as soon as Ko Tin Ko and his friends arrived they locked them in that room and told them they were detained,” Ma Sabai Oo said.

She said the group had been invited to the hospital by a man claiming to work for the Ministry of Health but that it was not clear which arm of the government had ordered the group’s detention.

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