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UNICEF expands Myanmar HIV/AIDS program

AFP, 18 May 2005 

YANGON - The United Nations Children’s Fund is stepping up efforts to prevent mother-child transmissions of HIV/AIDS in Myanmar, which has one of the highest infection rates in Asia, UNICEF said on Wednesday.

“Every year in Myanmar, at least 10,000 HIV-positive women become pregnant, giving birth to at least 3,000 to 4,000 children who are infected with HIV,” UNICEF’s representative Carroll Long said in a statement.

The isolated, military-ruled nation formerly known as Burma has an adult HIV infection rate of about 1.2 percent, and the epidemic is on the rise, the United Nations has warned.

A new three-year program would expand existing HIV/AIDS projects from townships to 10 of the largest hospitals.

Of the 1.25 million babies born every year in Myanmar, only 16 percent are delivered in hospitals, said UNICEF.
The new phase of the program would target hospital births, complementing efforts since 2000 that focused on home births.

The program, which has secured start-up funding but is seeking more long-term financial commitments, partners UNICEF and the UN’s Population Fund with Myanmar’s National AIDS Program.

The expansion marks a new step in UNICEF’s work to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS by making prevention, treatment and care services more readily available to mothers and newborns, Long said.

It also includes voluntary counselling, HIV testing, anti-retroviral drug treatments, and teaching medical staff safer delivery practices and how to reduce discrimination against those infected.

Counselling women about HIV/AIDS was crucial due to poor awareness about the deadly virus, said Anne Vincent, UNICEF’s chief of health and nutrition in Myanmar.

“We can tell them what HIV is, how you get infected, and what to do to not get infected,” she told AFP.

Under the program, the roughly one percent of women in Myanmar who test HIV-positive are given drugs to stop the virus being transmitted to their babies.

Almost 339,000 people in Myanmar were infected with the virus at the end of 2004, double the estimated 177,000 infections recorded in March 2002 statistics from the National AIDS Programme show.

Most Myanmar people living with HIV cannot afford anti-retroviral drugs. Many use herbal supplements or meditation techniques taught by Buddhist monks.



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