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Burma's Ban on Condoms, Current Needle Ban, Pushed Up HIV Infection Rate


June 1993

The long standing restrictions of the government of Myanmar, formerly Burma, on condom possession, recently lifted, and their continuing ban on sale or purchase of disposable syringes have fueled a surging rate of HIV infection, public health officials say (Mary Kay Magistad, "Burmese Slow To Confront AIDS: Problem Traced To Large Number Of Heroin Addicts, Ex-Prostitutes," Washington Post, 5/1/93, A14).

The government's restrictive approach combined with growing heroin addiction and prostitution has created a soaring HIV infection rate. The Myanmar office of the World Health Organization estimates that 100,000 people are now HIV positive. Myanmar, which is a crossroad for heroin traffic, has an estimated 160,000 heroin addicts, many of whom share needles. Despite the soaring HIV rate, the government views outlawing of syringes as a way to thwart heroin addiction. Possession of disposable syringes is illegal for everyone.

Another part of the problem stems from the migration each year of an estimated 20,000 women from Myanmar to Thailand to work as prostitutes. Many of these women return to Myanmar, where they either continue prostitution or marry and have children. One Thai survey found that at least 70 percent of all prostitutes who worked at least one year in a brothel were HIV positive.

Although condoms are now legally available in Myanmar, a recent survey there found that 90 percent of married couples did not even know what a condom was.