When people think about societies affected by the HIV crisis, Myanmar may not be the first that comes to mind. But Myanmar is one of 35 countries that account for 90 percent of new HIV infections globally and one of six countries in Asia identified by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) as a priority for the Global Fast Track Strategy to End the AIDS Epidemic by 2030.
Last month, Myanmar took a major step forward in addressing the ravages of HIV among its population with the launch of its third National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS. The plan—known as NSPIII—lays out a strategy to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030.
NSPIII calls for a coordinated response at national, state/regional, and local levels to close the testing gap and reach the UNAIDS 90–90–90 targets, which seek to ensure that, by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
ICAP, in a joint effort with the World Health Organization, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Population Services International, played a key role in the content development. Creation of NSPIII was led by the Myanmar National AIDSProgramme, the Myanmar Ministry of Health and Sports, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, which coordinated the work.
As a nation, Myanmar faces significant overall health challenges. An estimated 25 percent of its more than 50 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, and nearly 85 percent of the poor live in rural areas, presenting notable barriers to the delivery of timely, quality care. Those barriers have been compounded by years of political and economic isolation that have weakened the health infrastructure, particularly in conflict zones and mountainous states.
HIV is a major factor in those health challenges. In 2015 it was estimated that there were nearly a quarter of a million people living with HIV. With around 30 new infections per day, the epidemic heavily affects people who inject drugs, female sex workers, men who have sex with men, as well as the intimate partners of these groups. Critically, a large proportion of people living with HIV in Myanmar do not know their HIV status, while stigma, discrimination, and late diagnosis present substantial barriers to improving health outcomes. Indeed, approximately half of the people living with HIV are still not receiving lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.
Today, as part of a national vision for reducing poverty and boosting the economy, Myanmar’s National Health Policy—put forth by the government’s Ministry of Health and Sports—is committed to “Health for All,” with a focus on HIV prevention, treatment, and care as a major pillar in that policy. By integrating cost-effective HIV prevention and treatment services into the nation’s Universal Health Coverage, the NSPIII strategies to end HIV will work hand-in-hand with the government’s efforts to redress health inequities, and to improve overall quality, efficiency, inclusiveness, accountability, and sustainability of health services.
“This robust and innovative national plan builds on the gains Myanmar has already made in addressing the crisis and adheres to the country’s guiding national health principles to achieve the greatest impact by focusing on geographical, population, and intervention priorities,” said Dr. Khin Nyein Chan, ICAP’s country representative for Myanmar. “The strategy promotes and protects human rights and gender equity particularly for those most affected by the epidemic, seeks to eliminate stigma and discrimination, and aims to ensure maximum access to essential HIV services and social protection.”
ICAP began its partnership with the Government of Myanmar in 2014 to support the national response to HIV and has been providing technical assistance and implementation support at all levels of Myanmar’s health care system to facilitate the scale-up of HIVservices. The launch of NSPIII is a milestone in this work and a promise for a healthier future for all the people of Myanmar.