(Feature) – Burma's AIDS epidemic is concentrated mostly in marginalized groups, such as the gay community.
Burma's largest supernatural spirit festival [Nat festival] takes place annually in a small town outside of Mandalay called Taungbyone, attracting animists and also many members of the gay community, who come from all over the country for a week of celebrations and offerings.
About 1 percent of Burma's population is HIV positive, an article on the Voice of America (VOA) website said on Tuesday.
Among high-risk groups, such as men who have sex with men, health workers estimate as many as 11 percent have HIV.
Most spirit mediums at the festival, known as nat kadaws, are gay, like Ko Chit Tae, who hails from Rangoon, said the article.
“HIV affects the gay community. It's highly likely among homosexuals having frequent unprotected sexual intercourse with each other,” he said.
While Burma's National AIDS Plan has helped stem new infections, it offers almost no help for marginalized groups already living with HIV, said workers.
Dr. Kyaw Soe, the ministry of health's HIV officer for Mandalay Division, nevertheless recognizes the risks from not treating these groups.
“There may be laws against homosexuality, but if we look at it from a public health point of view, we have to help these people,” Kyaw Soe.
The international medical humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders provides 70 per cent of the lifesaving anti-retroviral therapy treatment in all of Burma. Duncan Bell is the group's Burma country director.
“I think the tragedy in Myanmar currently is there is the possibility to save people's lives and it's not being fully taken by the international community. There is a treatment gap of 80,000 people, approximately, in need of lifesaving treatment,” said Bell.
Because funding is low, no new patients in Burma will be able to receive the lifesaving drugs known as anti-retrovirals until 2014.