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NEW YORK — According to the latest statistics, the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Myanmar continues to rise, fueled by drug abuse, population mobility, poverty and a lack of effective government policies. Thai medical experts report that the epidemic, if not controlled, may soon eclipse the worst situation in Africa. The National AIDS Program, professionally competent but understaffed and underfunded, has been unable to contribute to controlling the spread of the infection. Myanmar urgently needs a change in policies primarily directed at high-risk groups. What happens from now will depend on the decisions taken both by the government and by the international community to control the spread of the epidemic.

Drug abuse and risky sexual practices, both heterosexual and homosexual, are the main reasons for the fast spread of the infection. Some experts estimate that Myanmar has the highest drug-associated HIV/AIDS rate in the world. The spread of the epidemic has become rapid in Myanmar’s border areas, particularly on the eastern border with Thailand and the northern border with China, where there is intensive drug abuse and a large population of migrant workers. Drugs produced in Myanmar (both heroin and methamphetamines) are trafficked through China and Thailand to other countries. In 2000, 600 million methamphetamine tablets were sent to Thailand, mainly from areas controlled by the Wa minority in Myanmar’s northern Shan state. Their value was estimated at $1.8 billion at Bangkok street rates. It is estimated that 60 percent of methamphetamines end up in the hands of young people ages 15 to 18.

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