The UNAIDS country representative to Myanmar Mr. Eamonn Murphy said that the government should increase government spending on people living with HIV. UNAIDS is cooperating with the Myanmar government in providing treatment to HIV-positive patients.
“Previously they did not spend any money on HIV patients. All of the expenses were borne by international donors. Over the last one or two years, they have started giving money for HIV. It is not much but it is positive. In the coming years, money from donors will decrease and it will not be adequate for patients. So the government needs to include spending for HIV patients in preparing their budget. This amount should be adequate and I’d like to urge them to increase their spending on HIV,” he said.
Currently funding for HIV elimination in Myanmar is being provided mainly by the ‘Global Fund’ which been providing funds for the treatment of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. According to their website, they had provided US$ 160 million for the elimination of the three diseases in Myanmar from 2013 to 2016. They have allocated US$ 23 billion for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria for July 2012-December 2017 period.
Myanmar Health Ministry started their spending on HIV/AIDS in 2014-15 financial year and gave US$ 1 million (about 1.2 billion kyats) for procuring Methadone and US$ 5 million (about 7.2 billion kyats) for buying antiretroviral (ARV) drugs in 2015-16 financial year to supplement the Global Fund’s funding.
Mr. Eamonn said, “Myanmar Health Ministry intends to spend US$8 million in the coming budget year. It is good. The government needs to spend more money for doing more prevention work and for expansion of treatment.”
Myanmar is currently achieving higher economic growth so international donors will not increase the funds given to Myanmar and are likely to decrease it gradually as Myanmar’s economy grows more. So the government is urged to spend more on these diseases.
Moreover, there is a worldwide plan to eradicate HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030 and Myanmar is expected to meet this deadline by 2030. Mr. Eamonn said that the government needs to increase their budget on HIV to meet this deadline.
Apart from spending more on HIV to meet the worldwide goal by 2030, the most important thing to do is eliminate discrimination against patients suffering from the disease.
Dr.Sitt Naing from Marie Stopes International said that because of discrimination in relation to people living with HIV, patients had difficulties visiting clinics and having blood tests as they were afraid.
“If you ask if there is discrimination, I shall answer yes. There is discrimination against these patients in government hospitals and private clinics. Some NGOs admitted that there was discrimination against the patients even in their clinics. So these patients dare not come even for testing. The service providers must train them and they must change their mindset,”
‘Zero Discrimination’ is a worldwide campaign led by UNAIDS for the elimination of such discrimination against people living with HIV and Myanmar Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been appointed as a Global Advocate for the campaign.
Mr. Eamonn said, “Aung San Suu Kyi has a role to play helping in the elimination of discrimination against HIV patients in Myanmar so I would like to urge her to do this.”
The NGOs which are working for HIV/AIDS patients said that in the current situation HIV positive patients dare not conduct further tests because of discrimination against them and were faced with difficult situations.
Zin Zin (name changed) who is homosexual and on ARV drugs said, “The nurses from government hospitals do not understand us. If they don’t understand us we will be exposed to our neighbourhood. If I am shamed by being exposed as having HIV, I will not go and take the drugs from the hospital. I would rather die than be ashamed.”
According to the latest statistics issued in 2015 by UNAIDS, the estimated number of people living with HIV in Myanmar is 210,000, with 30 people contracting HIV daily. The Myanmar Health Ministry announced that over 100,000 people living with HIV are receiving treatment from ARV drugs.