By 2015, children in Burma can be born free of HIV and their mothers can remain healthy to raise them, according to Burma’s minister of health.
The statement came during a meeting of Minister Pe Thet Khin and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé on Saturday in Mandalay.
Pe Thet Khin said, “This plan is realistic, achievable and supported by evidence. Preventing new HIV infections among children is a smart investment that saves lives and helps to give children a healthy start in life,” according to a UN press release.
Burma's HIV program will be scaled up “in testing services and providing drugs that are simple and safe to all pregnant women who need them,” he said.
With treatment starting early in pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding, the risk of transmitting HIV from a mother living with HIV to her child can be less than 5 per cent, officials said.
Burma’s National AIDS Programme has been gradually scaling up its HIV prevention services for pregnant women, according to the UN statement released on Monday.
In 2011, 84 per cent of the estimated 3,700 pregnant women living with HIV received ARV prophylaxis to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies.
However, at the moment less than one-third of pregnant women are tested for HIV, the statement said. Burmese health authorities plan to decentralize HIV testing services to reach more pregnant women.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said, ”I congratulate Myanmar on its commitment to reach an AIDS-free generation by 2015. I am sure if resources are made available to Myanmar, the country will reach its ambitious goal and I call on donors to support the Ministry of Health.”
Sidibé and Minister Pe Thet Khin called on international donors and other partners to work with the Ministry of Health to maintain the progress made so far and to expand prevention and treatment services for key affected populations.
The UNAIDS direct also met with Vice President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham who reconfirmed his government’s commitment to carrying-out effective HIV programming on Friday in Naypyitaw, the country’s capital.
The two leaders discussed the progress Burma has made in its HIV response, despite the enormous challenges Burma faces.
Vice President Sai Mauk Kham said that Burma is struggling with twin challenges: capacity of human resources and funding.
He said, “Myanmar’s main obstacle is funding. We need US$ 340 million for our response to HIV. Right now we have reached 50 per cent of our target. We have to continue our efforts.”
Unlike many other low and middle-income countries in Asia with HIV epidemics, Burma has received little international support during the past two decades. However, the country has still managed to make some progress in its national HIV response, said the UN statement.
In 2011, health authorities here estimate there were 8,500 new HIV infections, a drop from 11,000 in 2008. An estimated 32 per cent of people living with HIV, in need of treatment are accessing it, an increase from 12 per cent in 2008. The country has detailed plans to scale up treatment coverage to 85 per cent of those in need by 2015 and is seeking international support to make this a reality.
“This is a transformative moment in Myanmar. You have been struggling through difficult times, but you are still producing amazing results,” said Sidibé. “You can count on me to advocate for you with international donors and partners in order to seize this window of opportunity and expand HIV programmes and make a return on investment.”
Sidibé has also met with Nobel peace prize winner and Member of Parliament Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who called on Burmese citizens and people around the globe to eliminate the stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV often face.