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Myanmar: Progress in HIV response but gaps still remain

Thursday, 29 August, 2013

The South East Asian nation of Myanmar (Burma) has witnessed some positive steps forward in the national HIV and AIDS response in recent times. While there are still significant gaps in the provision and coverage of HIV services, increased commitment and available funding are signs for cautious optimism. The Head of Mission for Médecins Sans Frontières, who are the largest provider of antiretrovirals (ARVs) in Myanmar, has stated: “All the ingredients are there to make this work, but a comprehensive and integrated plan concerning all actors and activities is needed to ensure a proper and rapid implementation”.

Although the national HIV prevalence in Myanmar is low compared to other parts of the world, it is the third highest in the Asia-Pacific region and rates among key population groups are much higher than the national average. For example, in 2010 an estimated 35 percent of men who have sex with men (MSM) were HIV positive in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city. Nationally, approximately 200,000 people are living with HIV and an estimated 50 percent of people in need of treatment currently have access. This is an incredible increase of 32 percent since 2011, with government targets aiming for 85 percent treatment coverage by 2016.

In June 2013, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund) granted 160 million US dollars to Myanmar over the next four years. The grant focuses on improving treatment access across the country, including in volatile border areas which are not under government control, where UNAIDS states there is commitment to provide these services. MSF believe that the new World Health Organisation guidelines on ARV treatment will help to create greater demand for ARVs when Myanmar aligns its national ARV policy, which will increase the number of people who are eligible.

Nevertheless, there remains a significant funding gap in Myanmar’s HIV response and conflict in certain areas of the country pose ongoing challenges to reaching everyone who requires HIV services in the country.