Myanmar faces 24,000 AIDS deaths for lack of ART drugs

November 25th, 2008 - 8:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Nov 25 (DPA) An estimated 24,000 people will die of HIV/AIDS in Myanmar next year unless the international donor community is willing to provide funds for antiretroviral drugs (ART), a medical group warned Tuesday.”Myanmar has about 240,000 people with HIV/AIDS, and of them about one-third need antiretroviral treatment without which they cannot survive,” said Frank Smithius, the head of Medecins Sans Frontier, which treats patients with ART in Myanmar.

The groups is providing ART to 11,000 patients while the Myanmar government, the UN and other non-governmental groups are supplying another 4,000.

“It’s not enough, when 75,000 people need ART,” said Smithius. “It is estimated by the UN and Myanmar government that 24,000 people will die if nothing is done in the next year.”

Myanmar, which is run by a military junta that is condemned in the West for its atrocious human rights record and failure to introduce democratic reforms, is the second-lowest recipient of overseas development aid worldwide at three dollars per capita.

The Myanmar government spends a estimated 0.3 percent of its gross domestic product on health, one of the lowest rates worldwide.

In 2008, it allocated the equivalent of $0.7 per person on healthcare, of which about $200,000 was allocated to treatment of HIV/AIDS patients, an MSF report released Tuesday said.

The health care organisation has been operating in Myanmar since 1993. It said it spends about $300 per patient for ART in Myanmar, or about $3.3 million to treat 11,000 patients.

Smithius said it had no additional funds to treat the remaining 60,000 HIV/AIDS patients and called on the international donor community to assist in dealing with the pandemic.

An estimated $18 million will be needed to treat the HIV/AIDS patients currently deprived of antiretroviral treatment.

International donors are often reluctant to send aid to Myanmar for fear the funds will be diverted to the government, which faces strict economic sanctions from both the US and Europe.

“If we can guarantee that we have been able to deliver medicines directly to the patients, then there is no reason to not provide aid to Myanmar, and at MSF we can make that claim,” said Smithius.

He said the group runs 25 HIV/AIDS clinics inside Myanmar and has government permission to import antiretroviral drugs tax free.

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