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HIV Activist Runs for Parliament in Burma

In less than a year, Burma's new government has rolled out a series of reforms that have encouraged even its biggest critics. The release of political prisoners and a promise of more open elections are enticing some of those critics to join the political arena. One longtime activist now is considering a run for office.

Last year authorities in Burma threatened to shut down Phyu Phyu Thin's AIDS clinic in a suburb of Rangoon.

More than 40 patients live here in basic conditions. Most are too poor to afford treatment, or have no other options. And some, like this 20 month-old child, have been orphaned by the virus. Phyu Phyu Thin has spent the better part of the last decade helping people like her.

"The most important issue now is that many children are infected with HIV, and we need to do provide them with support. Infection rates are rising among youths, so we need to increase social awareness," she said.

After authorities threatened to evict clinic patients, National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi used her celebrity to draw attention to the clinic, and the issue was dropped. Today, Phyu Phyu Thin is opening a second clinic to meet the growing need for care. She is even contesting a seat in the upcoming by-election alongside Suu Kyi.

"Being a Myanmar [Burma] citizen, as well as an NLD member, I really do feel happy that Daw Suu is running. It's what we really need right now. I hope that we can all work together to build a modern, developed nation in the near future," said Phyu Phyu.

She is still reluctant to criticize the government directly, but Phyu Phyu believes the state must do more for many of the people she has dedicated her life to helping.

"Since we have been under military dictatorship for such a long time, issues including education, health care need to be seriously addressed as soon as possible," she said.

Although the election may have a limited impact on the next parliamentary session, it does mark a change in how openly people like Phyu Phyu Thin and other members of civil society can work. And it may make room for a new kind of socially engaged politician in Burma.