YANGON — AIDS-related deaths in Myanmar have dropped 52 percent in the past six years, the sharpest decline in Asia and the Pacific, according to a UNAIDS report on the global HIV epidemic released on Thursday.
The report titled “Ending AIDS: Progress towards the 90-90-90 targets” was launched in Paris, France, and highlighted UN progress in the fight against HIV.
The UN report said the number of people living with HIV who were accessing life-saving antiretroviral therapy in Myanmar had increased four-fold since 2010, to 57 percent of an estimated 230,000 people in 2016.
Oussama Tawil, the new country director of UNAIDS Myanmar, said that “a massive scale-up in HIV treatment” and a “decentralization of services” to prevent HIV, even in remote areas through government-run clinics, contributed to a large decline in AIDS-related deaths in the country.
The UN plan, which aims to ensure that 90 percent of key populations have access to HIV prevention services, has also seen progress as annual new HIV infections in Myanmar have fallen by 26 percent since 2010.
Significant efforts have also been made to eliminate new infections among children, the report said, with 88 percent of women affected with HIV accessing services for the prevention of mother to child transmission.
Tawil told The Irrawaddy, “This decline is a strong indicator of the commitment and leadership of the health ministry, development partners and donors. But also, community and nongovernmental organizations have worked together and that has made an important impact.”
According to the data from the government’s five-year National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS for 2016-2020, HIV prevalence among key populations – people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and sex workers – is high, at 28.5 percent, 11.6 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.
A large burden of the epidemic is shared among big cities including Yangon and Waingmaw, Kachin State. The prevalence among people who inject drugs in Waingmaw is as high as 47 percent.
Tawil said that the incidence of drug use is high in many countries in the region including Myanmar, India, Nepal, Indonesia and Pakistan, adding that it is often the result of economic problems as well as the availability of drugs at low prices.
The UN report highlighted Myanmar’s efforts to reduce the spread of HIV through drug use, including the government distribution of more than 300 sterile needles and syringes per person who injects drugs between 2014 and 2016.
“While we are now seeing positive results in the reduction of deaths and new infections, Myanmar momentum must be sustained to achieve its goal of ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat, by 2030,” Tawil said.
He added that continued commitment and support from the government, donors, international and national nongovernmental organizations, community networks and HIV support groups is crucial in achieving the country’s HIV response targets.