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HIV increasing among Burmese migrant workers, survey claims

July 31, 2010

IMNA : According to the Pattanarak Foundation, a Thai non-governmental organization, a recently conducted HIV survey in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province has revealed that 3% of the 300 Burmese migrant workers tested were HIV-positive.

Testing for the survey took place from July 20th to July 26th, amongst 300 Burmese workers in the VITA FOOD Factory in Tahmaka District, Kanchanburi province. Medical professionals that conducted the exam informed IMNA that the survey’s results indicate that HIV is on the rise in Thailand’s Burmese migrant worker population.

“People are lacking in knowledge of HIV prevention education…None of them use condoms when they have sex. That’s why it is easy to spread HIV virus among the migrant workers,” a medic explained.

Sources speculated to IMNA that many Burmese migrant workers are afraid to get tested for HIV, due to cultural prejudices against sex/HIV education. Naw Htoo from Thailand’s Phamit2 program, claimed that survey takers had to rely on the VITA FOOD factory manager to force unwilling workers to participate in the survey; Burmese migrant workers frequently have tenuous legal status and must heed the dictates of their employers.

“We had to negotiate with the factory authorities to test people in the factory, otherwise no one would come and get tested. Only when the authorities said that they would fire the ones who would not come, did people come to get tested,” Naw Htoo explained.

The VITA FOOD factory work force is comprised of 15,000 people, but only 8,100 are Burmese workers with legal Thai work permits. Of these legal workers, 300 Burmese migrant workers were selected for testing. According to medic Saw Abow, five women and four men were confirmed to be HIV-positive; an additional 10 people’s test results were unconfirmed, are still considered at risk for HIV.

He added that the Pattanarak Foundation plans to report the survey’s results to  the Thai Health Organization in Kanchanaburi in order to obtain antiretroviral drugs for  the HIV-positive patients in the VITA FOODS factory.

According to the Phamit2 project manager, the Pattanarak Foundation plans to initially focus on HIV testing among migrant worker populations, and then move on to testing for syphilis.

Saw Abow reported to IMNA that after conducting testing in three provinces – Ubonrathani, Kanchanaburi, and Kalasin – Pattanarak medics confirmed 11,000 syphilis cases, signaling a serious need for sex/STI- related education in all three regions.

The Pattanarak Foundation, which is run under the Phamit2 program, is supported by Global Fund in its fight against HIV/AIDS and syphilis within disadvantaged populations in Thailand. The foundation is also involved in community development, culture heritage preservation, and environmental conservation.

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