Heroin and HIV/AIDS epidemic in Burma
covering burma and southeast asia
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Heroin and HIV/AIDS epidemic in Burma


By The Irrawaddy DECEMBER, 1998 - VOLUME 6 NO.6


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A new report, titled “Out Of Control 2”, issued by the Southeast Asian Information Network [SAIN] shows the involvement of Burmese regime officials in narcotics trafficking and the correlation of increased drug trade and rising HIV/AIDS rates in Burma and beyond its borders.

The report states that the last several years have produced a mounting body of evidence indicating high-level involvement of some junta members in the illicit narcotics industry. Routes and methods of transportation and export of Burmese narcotics are described in this report.

“Under this regime Burma is not only becoming a narco-state but its people and those of its neighbors are facing two devastating epidemics: injecting drug use and HIV/AIDS,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer.

New evidence from China and India suggests that Burmese heroin exports to those countries now pose similar health risks to their peoples, and the evidence suggests high- level Burmese government involvement with the export of these narcotics.

New information details how heroin #4 from Burma is crossing through China’s western borders into Kazakhstan and onto Hungary and Poland.  The report explains how the explosive use of heroin #4 and HIV infection are linked to the dual epidemic in Burma and its neighboring countries.

The Indian and Chinese drug and HIV/AIDS epidemics support evidence that Burma, in addition to being a heroin exporter, is also an exporter of the HIV infection.

There has been a considerable rise in the amount of heroin crossing the border since the signing of the Indo-Burma trade treaty in 1995.

In November, the Unicef director for East Asia and the Pacific told Reuters news agency in Bangkok that Burma and Cambodia could face an  “Africa-like” Aids epidemic unless they  took firm action against the deadly virus. Curiously, shortly after the Unicef’s warning, the Tatmadaw [Armed Forces] issued private instruction concerning HIV/AIDS to battalions and troops throughout Burma.

According to reliable source, between January to October this year approximately 1,000 soldiers were infected with Aids virus, while over 5,000 were found to be HIV positive.

“Many soldiers who have been stationed on the border with Thailand are infected with HIV virus,” added a source.

Many soldiers who deserted their battalions and now work in Thai border towns also told this reporter that “our friends [soldiers] died without even knowing the disease.”

A soldier who is in his 20s said there is little information and education provided by officers about the disease “that killed one of my friends in our regiment.”

It is a well-known fact that Burmese soldiers including army officers visit brothels along the Thai-Burma border. Without a doubt, the sex workers are not Thais, but Burmese women who desperately need income so that they can send money back to their starving families in Burma.

Not only on the border, but also in central and inland Burma, soldiers bring prostitutes to their quarters where they “share” them.

Former soldier Soe Myint [not his real name] now in Thailand said 10 to 15 soldiers would spend a night with a girl [sex worker]. When asked, “Condom?” He replied, “Never heard of it.”

In remote villages, stories are appalling. Soldiers rape village girls and women. The question is what if these soldiers are infected with HIV or venereal disease.

“Now a stern order has come from the Rangoon war office that soldiers who cross the border, visit brothels, and bring prostitutes to their camps will be punished,” according to a reliable source.

It added that more serious HIV/AIDS education will be offered to soldiers.

According  to the SAIN report, one study of HIV infection risks among men in the Burmese military has been performed.  It discovered that risk behaviors were common and  that these behaviors included sex with other men (7.4 per cent), extramarital sex (13 per cent), sex with commercial sex workers (37.3 per cent), and inconsistent or absent condom use (96.6). While AIDS education is offered to soldiers, condom promotion and distribution is not a significant part of this program.

There has yet to be any research conducted on homosexual and bisexual intercourse.

As early as the 1980s, young recruits in the army admitted to having sex with their officers or friends. Officers find young and charming soldier to accompany them. At night, young soldiers are often asked to do an extra job.

A World Health Organization report in 1996 showed that 475,000 people were infected with HIV in Burma.  The majority were infected  through intravenous drug use. Burma’s first HIV case was found in 1988.



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