Cablegate: World Aids Day in Burma

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. SUMMARY: The GOB, close on the heels of its
well-attended HIV/AIDS Exposition (reftel), on World AIDS Day
held ceremonies and HIV/AIDS activities in Rangoon and other
cities. According to two government-controlled weeklies, the
GOB ranks HIV/AIDS as the number three national health
concern. UNAIDS Country Coordinator expressed concerned that
the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Burma is not given enough
attention. END SUMMARY.

2. The Ministry of Health held an indoor ceremony on
December 1 in Rangoon attended by UN agencies' staffs, INGOs,
local NGOs, diplomats, and several hundred Ministry of Health
civil servants. The Ministry also held World AIDS Day
ceremonies and awareness activities in other cities around
the country. The Deputy Minister of Health told the audience
that Burma's strong cultural values have contributed to
preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and also help in the care
of those infected, adding that the "kind-hearted nature of
the Burmese contributed to the care and support of PLWHA."
The PM's wife, Dr. Daw Kin Win Shwe, also attended as the
Head of the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association.

3. According to the UNAIDS Myanmar Country Coordinator the
HIV infection rate is now 2.4 percent for the general Burmese
population. Using the Ministry of Health's HIV/AIDS data
from testing army recruits (2 percent infection rate), blood
donors (1.23 percent), and mothers giving birth (2.8
percent), UNAIDS puts the infection rate for the general
population above the 2 percent "epidemic" threshold. Though
the GOB figures are considered reliable, UNAIDS notes that
because IV drug users are not counted, and the country's
total population is unknown, and that since many expecting
mothers don't use hospitals, finding a solid figure for
infection rate is a bit of a red herring. He felt instead
that the focus should be on the HIV/AIDS incidence rate.

4. To coincide with World AIDS Day, the GOB-controlled
weekly, "The Myanmar Times" cited HIV/AIDS as third among
Burma's national health concerns after malaria and
tuberculosis. The article states that "statistics from the
National Blood Center in Yangon show that about one percent
of the blood donors have HIV," that two thirds of the
registered injection drug users have HIV, and that the GOB is
promoting condom use to prevent heterosexual transmission.
The GOB is also cooperating with the UN to "tackle the
problem of illicit drug use and HIV infection."

5. COMMENT: The Rangoon ceremony, held entirely in English,
and the rather candid article in the "Times" (which is read
only by the expatriate community), appeared to be mostly
window dressing designed specifically for foreign
consumption. The message to the UN, to foreign donors, and
to the NGOs, is that the GOB is concerned about the HIV/AIDS
problem in Burma, has taken steps to address the problem, and
any assistance in fighting HIV/AIDS in Burma is welcome.
Health care spending, however, tells a different story. In
2002 the GOB spent a paltry 14.2 cents per person on basic
health care. END COMMENT.

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