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NEWS - Burma HIV Epidemic Spreads t
Subject: NEWS - Burma HIV Epidemic Spreads to India, China
Health-Asia: Burma HIV Epidemic Spreads to India, China
Inter Press Service
NEW DELHI, (Nov. 10) IPS - Burma's uncontrolled HIV
(human immunodeficiency virus) epidemic spreading through
unsafe heroin use has spilled into neighboring India and
China, warns a Thailand-based network monitoring the fatal
AIDS in the region.
"New evidence from China and India suggests that Burmese
heroin exports to those countries now pose similar risks to
their peoples causing a public health crisis in those
countries," says Southeast Asian Information Network (SAIN)
in a recent report.
Roughly 80 percent of reported HIV infections in China are
found along the Burmese border. The seven northeast
Indian states face similar problems particularly the states
Manipur and Mizoram which share most of the 1,000 km
border with Burma.
According to the Chiang Mai-based SAIN, the value of heroin
trade along Burma's borders reached $1.2 billion in 1997
from $850 million in 1995. In 1995-96, 163,100 hectares of
poppy were cultivated in Burma, which can produce 2,560
metric tonnes of opium.
India-based Burmese pro-democracy groups say the drug
smuggling has considerably increased since the opening of
the India-Burma border trade in 1995. "Under the shadow of
legal border trade, the fatal drug was smuggled. The drug
barons felt encouraged to exploit the Indo-Burma border
using the northeast Indian route for smuggling," a 1997
Manipur state is the worst affected. With injectable heroin
from the neighboring so-called "Golden Triangle" in Burma
flowing in through the porous 300-km border, there were
4,000 odd known cases of HIV among drug users by 1996.
Sentinel surveillance reports reveal an enormous problem:
between 1994 and 1997 the sero-prevalence rate among
injectable drug users shot up from 59.9 percent to 80.70
percent -- one of the world's highest.
"Burma is the epicenter of the epidemic in Asia," cautioned
Prof. John Dwyer, founding president of the AIDS Society of
Asia and the Pacific in June last year. The U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency estimates that Burma now produces
more than 50 percent of the world's raw opium, and refines
as much as 75 percent of the world's heroin.
Anti-drug agencies say that opium production has more than
doubled since 1988, when the present military regime of the
State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) seized
power in Burma. The local military authorities allow the
cultivation in return for tax from the cultivators.
Testifying before the U.S House of Representatives on Sept.
28, Gare Smith, acting assistant secretary of Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in the State
Department said, "there is evidence that corrupt elements in
the military may be aiding the traffickers, and there are
that the SPDC encourages traffickers to invest their
gains in a multitude of development projects throughout the
It is hard to estimate the quantum of drug trafficking from
Burma, but the excise commissioner in Mizoram confirms that
a huge quantity was entering the state from Burma. Burmese
army officials, he said, were involved in drug running.
"Taking advantage of their official status, they carry drugs
official vehicles up to the border where they earn money
from the smugglers," the official said.
India borders Burma's western districts of Chin, Sagaing and
Naga where opium cultivation has reportedly widely
increased with villagers who previously grew rice switching
in the 1990s to opium cultivation. According to a villager
Chin state, the 80-odd households in his village are
cultivating some 80 acres of opium fields.
With the increased cross-border smuggling, heroin use in
neighboring countries has gone up. In Manipur, for instance,
one in five young Manipuris is hooked to heroin and the
spread of the HIV/AIDS virus is rampant, mostly amongst
drug addicts who share the same needles. Imphal, the state
capital, is becoming the AIDS capital of the world.
According to Dr. Khomdon Singh Lisam, Manipur state AIDS
officer, by 2000, over 600 infected infants will be born in
Manipur and all of them will die of AIDS. Studies have shown
that the subtypes of HIV identified in Manipur are those
found in Burma (subtypes B and E of HIV-1) and not typical
of the rest of the country where subtypes C, A and HIV-2 are
The number of HIV positive persons in India is currently
estimated to be three million. According to a government
report of August 1996, a random countrywide screening of
43,892 persons revealed 4,857 HIV positive cases, of which
153 had full-blown AIDS.
Mizoram state which shares about 400 km of international
border with Burma, has also witnessed a spurt in drug
smuggling and use. The excise commissioner of the state, in
an interview in 1997, confirmed the increase in drug
trafficking and drug addiction among youngsters in the
A drug smuggler in Mizoram told IPS that one kg heroin sold
for 400,000 rupees (roughly $10,000) on the India-Burma
border. The margin of profit shot up to 2,500 dollars in
Aizawl, the state capital which is 192 kms from the border
and at least three or four times that in other mainland
The United Nations Drug Control Programme is now in
Rangoon, and has already drafted a programme with the
military regime to eradicate the production of opium within
years. But it raises more questions than answers since the
military junta is well known to benefit from the narcotics