HIV Situation in Myanmar World AIDS Day Breakfast Forum 3 December 2012, Asian Development Bank

Distinguished Guests, Vice President Groff, Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to be able to say a few words on this occasion for both personal and professional reasons. I am a citizen of Myanmar and over the past twenty years seen the epidemic explode from about 50,000 people living with HIV in 1991 to a peek of over 250,000 living with HIV in 2004. The governments' interventions were limited by the lack of resources, the complexity of the epidemic and limited access to external aid. I recall being on the joint ADB/UNDP advocacy mission to Myanmar in 1991 when we met with receptive high level government officials who asked for a very modest amount of assistance for blood safety but which, we were not able to provide. Neither were we able to respond to subsequent requests for much needed assistance even when they were part of the Greater Mekong Subregional program. Today, Myanmar is ranked as a high-burden country in Asia with an estimated 216,000 people living with HIV of whom roughly a third are women. The good news is that HIV prevalence in the adult population peaked at .94% in 2000 and as of 2011 has declined to .53%. Having said that, it is important to note that prevalence amongst key affected groups remains high: 21.9% for male IVDUs, 9.4% for CSWs and 7.8% for MSM. Furthermore, the treatment gap remains large as only one third of the estimated 120,000 people in need of treatment have access to ART. This is a huge improvement over just three years earlier but still, very low compared to Africa where approximately 50% of those in need have access to treatment. We still have much to do and I hope that this new project is the bookmark for a new chapter in Myanmar – donor HIV relations and is the first of many projects to come. Today’s event also gives me great satisfaction at a professional level. I am the first person to work on HIV/AIDS in ADB and we have come a long, long way from the time when a senior staff wrote on the margin of one of my proposals, 'only Elizabeth Taylor works on AIDS'. In addition to stand alone projects we have internalized HIV into our daily operations and we have combined it with our regional cooperation activities to effectively address cross border issues. Perhaps our greatest contribution has been on our globally leading role on the development of a methodology for understanding the economic implications of HIV/AIDS. A direct line can be drawn from that work in the mid Nineties to the current UN AIDS approach of promoting targeted, pragmatic and focused interventions.

In concluding, I congratulate Emiko Masaki and her colleagues at SERD for putting together this project in such a short time and I thank the government and people of Sweden including Rikard Elfving for their generosity. A million dollars may be nothing for a rich country such as Sweden but it could mean the difference between life and death for thousands in Myanmar. Thank you and good day.

Myo Thant Principal Economist Office of Regional Economic Integration Asian Development Bank

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