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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
            report stated. 

            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
            of India. 

            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