The number of people contracting HIV in Burma decreased between 2000 and 2013, according to a new UN report, which also said there are still 189,000 people in the country living with the virus.
The Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) “Gap report”—which was published Wednesday to highlight the global inequity of gains made in fighting the disease—noted a worldwide drop in new HIV infections of 38 percent between 2001 and last year. Despite that progress, 2.1 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2013 in all countries, it said.
In Burma, the report said, “New infections declined in this reporting period, but over 7,000 new infections are estimated to have occurred in 2013, confirming the continuing need for effective prevention efforts.”
The UN report—which used figures collected by Burma’s National AIDS Program, part of the Ministry of Health—did not give figures for the number of new infections in any other years.
Burma is one of six countries—also including India, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam—that together account for more than 90 percent of the people living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific.
Some 189,000 people in Burma are living with the virus, and an estimated 15,000 people died of AIDS-related illness in 2013, according to the report.
According to a government survey of HIV-infected people in Rangoon and Mandalay alone—cited in the UN report—52 percent of them were men who have sex with men, 25 percent were intravenous drug users and 23 percent were female sex workers.
However, Burmese health experts said the real number of people with HIV/AIDS in the country could be higher than the figures suggest.
“The number of HIV-infected persons or new infections could be more than the UN figures due to the fact that many are still reluctant to seek official treatment,” said Dr. Tin Myo Win, who runs the Karuna La Yeik shelter for people living with HIV in Rangoon.
His organization, which gets no government funding, provides shelter to about 200 people receiving the anti-retroviral treatment (ART).
“Since 2006, we have only been able to provide ART medication for about 200 people—women, men and children—with support from nongovernmental organizations,” said Dr. Tin Myo Win.
“We cannot tell how many remain outside of the survey list in the whole nation because, for instance, those who can pay for ART don’t seek support.”
The figures also do not include children with HIV, who most often are passed the virus from their mother. Many Burmese people living near or across the country’s borders are also likely left out of the statistics.