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AIDS assistance to Burma stepped up

December 7, 2005 - 4:59PM
The Age

Australia is joining other international donors to bridge a $US98 million ($A130 million) assistance shortfall to Burma in the fight against HIV/AIDS, senior United Nations and other diplomatic sources said.

The Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria ended its aid to military-ruled Burma, also known as Myanmar, on December 1.

The fund distributes public and private contributions and works closely with UN agencies.

But the fund's largest contributor, the United States, is one of the strongest critics of Burma's military junta and its poor human rights record.

UN officials in Rangoon had claimed the fund had come under pressure from US congressional lobby groups hoping to restrict UN operations in Burma, one of the world's poorest nations.

The fund said it withdrew funding due to travel restrictions and new government-imposed procedures for procurement of medical and other supplies.

UNAIDS has estimated that Burma has over 600,000 people with the AIDS virus and was now spreading from high risk groups such as sex workers and intravenous drug users into the general population.

The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) says at least 10,000 HIV-positive women in Burma give birth to around four thousand infected babies each year.

There was quite a deal of concern and disappointment that a major source of international funding to deal with HIV, Malaria and TB, was halted, a senior Western diplomat told AAP.

"Although at times it is difficult to access projects, it doesn't remove the core issue of the situation that is facing people here," he said.

Meetings between the various donors, including Australia, are to take place over the next few weeks.
A decision on the funding is expected by mid-January.

UNAIDS officials said 5,000 patients would now be prevented from access to life saving anti-retroviral treatment, while efforts to expand the 100 per cent condom program would be drastically curtailed.

Over 30 townships would now not receive injecting drug user harm reduction programs and 36,000 voluntary HIV/AIDS tests planned over the first year were not expected to take place.

In the financial year 2006 Australia announced a 25 per cent increase in the overall level of aid to Burma to $A12 million, making Australia a significant donor to Burma.

Australia also contributes to regional initiatives in the health area, especially to HIV/ AIDS.



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