Nobel Peace Prize Winner and opposition leader of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, is urging the country’s people to let go of the anti-gay stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS, and for the decriminalization of homosexuality.
On Tuesday, November 20, the United Nations extolled Burma for its tremendous 72 percent decrease in HIV infections. However, the UN also pointed out that HIV and AIDS is still escalating among sex workers and gay men.
Suu Kyi attributes this unfortunate statistic to the country’s anti-gay laws. In Burma, homosexuality is punishable by fines and up to ten years in prison. These anti-gay laws are not strictly enforced, and studies show that LGBT acceptance is on the rise among the people of Burma. Still, it is possible that the mere existence of the laws might shame people out of receiving treatment.
“Because of stigma, many people do not come to receive life-saving treatment or prevention services. This is costing lives,” Suu Kyi said at the HIV/AIDS regional Asia-Pacific conference on Tuesday. “We need an Asia-Pacific community of compassion to end discrimination.”
According to the United Nations HIV/AIDS agency (UNAIDS), approximately one-third of intravenous drug users in the Kachin capital, Myitkyina, are HIV positive, as well as 21.3 percent of men who have sex with men.