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Reuters-INTERVIEW-Myanmar, Cambodia

Subject: Reuters-INTERVIEW-Myanmar, Cambodia face huge AIDS problem

INTERVIEW-Myanmar, Cambodia face huge AIDS problem
06:34 a.m. Nov 12, 1998 Eastern

By David Brunnstrom

BANGKOK, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Myanmar and Cambodia could face AIDS epidemics
of ``Africa-like'' proportions unless effective programmes are implemented
to stem the disease, UNICEF's director for East Asia and the Pacific said on

Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia have the highest rates of AIDS and HIV
infection in the region, Kul Gautam told Reuters.

``Thailand, although it has the largest number of cases in Southeast Asia
also has the most imaginative, effective and innovative programmes,'' he

``Cambodia and Myanmar on the other hand have serious problems but do not
yet have serious programmes.''

Gautam spoke at a conference on child development in Bangkok where UNICEF
presented statistics from a U.N. report showing that by 1997, nearly 50,000
children had been orphaned by AIDS in Thailand, nearly 15,000 in Myanmar and
about 8,000 in Cambodia.

``In the coming years, HIV aids is going to be a problem everywhere,''
Gautam said. ``No country is immune, but Cambodia and Myanmar are going to
require particular attention.

``If we do not act and act firmly and decisively and in an ambitious manner,
I fear in a few years time we may have the problem of HIV/AIDS taking on
Africa-like proportions in these countries.''

According to U.N. data, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand all show a ``very
high'' level of HIV infection -- between 1.01 and 2.4 percent of the adult
population. This compares with countries like Laos or China with prevalances
of 0.01 to 0.06 percent. Guatam said it was difficult to determine the exact
extent of the disease.

``Part of the problem of not doing enough is not even knowing how serious
the problem is,'' he said.

``We have anecdotal evidence that in Cambodia one in every two prostitutes
is HIV positive, that one in every six or seven soldiers is HIV positive,
that one in 20 university students is HIV positive.''

``I would not swear by these figures but our colleagues who work there say
that the problems are of such magnitude,'' he said.

He said in Myanmar, and to some extent Vietnam, intravenous drug use is a
bigger cause of infection than sexual contact.

Northern Myanmar's Shan State is the world's biggest single source of heroin
and drug users in the country frequency resort to needles shares by multiple

Increasingly, HIV in both countries was being transmitted from mother to
child, either during pregnancy or during breast feeding, Gualam said.

``I think in Thailand, the government has acknowledged and has confronted
the problem, but I think in Myanmar and Cambodia there is not sufficient
acknowledgement or sufficient action.

``Cambodia has just come out of so many years of war and revolution and
trouble but Mynamar is some ways has been a bit of a period of denial.

``I think they are slowly beginning to acknowledge the problem, but I think
their actions arenot yet commensurate with the gravity of the problem,'' he