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Myanmar, India: Secret HIV Pipeline Saving Lives

January 3, 2007

HIV/AIDS patients restricted by the military junta in Myanmar (formerly Burma) from receiving free treatment are secretly crossing into India's Manipur state, where they can receive treatment and help relocating from nongovernmental organizations.

"Because of ever-increasing restrictions by the military junta ... the chances of international medical aid agencies reaching those infected people in frontier areas are getting dimmer," said Aung Kyaw Oo, a Manipur-based doctor and activist from Myanmar. "But agencies from India can provide key medical aid, including ARV drugs. At least 7 percent of the western and northern border regions' adult population is infected with HIV and less than 0.5 percent" have ARV access, Oo said.

Thousands of infected reside in the Kachin and Chin states and the Sagaing division, Oo estimated. "The care and treatment [of HIV patients] is in fact grimmer than [in] many African countries."

"If you are not among the 5 percent of the rich and if you get HIV, you will have to die without any medical treatment," said Mawia Ralte, 32, who receives treatment and lives with his wife in India with the help of an NGO. "Mawia had been getting weaker, and sometimes fell sick," said Sangpuii Ralte. "He could not work hard in the fields in Myanmar and our family income was declining. We had no money for his medical treatment there."

"They need the ARV drugs badly and they cannot afford to buy it on the Burmese black market," said the NGO's counselor. "For humanitarian reasons, we have been forced to get them registered here falsely as Indians." So far, 40 Burmese have enrolled in the treatment program, and five have relocated to India, she said, adding that the NGO hopes all the patients migrate within a few months.

Back to other news for January 3, 2007

Excerpted from:
Toronto Star
12.27.06; Shaikh Azizur Rahman

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