One of the leading groups in the fight against AIDS, The Global Fund, has terminated a five-year anti-AIDS program in Burma because of the military government's restrictions on the effort. United Nations officials say the step will severely hurt the U.N.'s AIDS operations in Burma.
News of the termination of the $98 million program reached United Nations officials in Rangoon Friday. They say the measure is a blow in the fight against AIDS in Burma, which already was short of funds. They now will have to search for new contributions.
The Global Fund distributes public and private contributions for the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and it works closely with U.N. agencies. The United States is the largest contributor to the fund. The Global Fund secretariat said the Burma program was ended because Rangoon recently established procedures restricting operations.
U.N. officials in Rangoon say the Global Fund has come under recent pressure from U.S. pro-democracy groups hoping to restrict U.N. operations in Burma.
The United States, the European Union and other governments have imposed economic sanctions against Burma's military government to pressure it to implement political reforms and improve its human rights record.
"It's very clear and obvious that political reform is required," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the chairman of the U.N. Theme Group on HIV-AIDS in Burma. "But this should not be done at the cost of human lives and an unchecked AIDS epidemic will not only increase suffering within the country but also across the borders."
Mr. Lemahieu says the funding cut will have immediate effect on the U.N.'s AIDS operations in Burma.
"There will be 5,000 patients which will not have access to anti-retroviral treatment, the 100 percent condom program will not expand to nearly two-thirds of the country," he said. Thirty key townships will not receive injecting drug user harm reduction efforts and the 36,000 voluntary HIV-AIDS tests planned for the first year will not be happening."
The $98 million would have tripled the UNAIDS budget in Burma, as experts warn AIDS is spreading from high-risk groups, such as sex workers, into the general population.
UNAIDS estimates that between 170,000 and 610,000 people in Burma are infected with HIV, which causes AIDS.