amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

News Briefs

October 2005


Chinese officials have taken several steps in recent months that represent increasingly frank and practical policies on HIV prevention.

In June, the Chinese health ministry announced a series of harm reduction efforts that have been forbidden in the past, such as providing clean syringes, condoms, and methadone. A new law was also drafted to protect people with HIV/AIDS from discrimination. In addition, the health ministry encouraged local communities to promote syringe exchange and provide free condoms. (China View, 12/6/05; Drug War Chronicle, 27/6/05)

The government has also begun to focus on AIDS among men who have sex with men (MSM), a community that faces significant discrimination in China and has been almost invisible to the government. In late August, Vice Health Minister Wang Longde publicly declared that MSM are a major concern if China is to contain the epidemic and asserted that the country cannot refuse to admit that they exist. (Xinhua/People’s Daily Online, 2/9/05)

Under a fast-track approval process set up by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a number of Indian generic drugs have won approval for inclusion in the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which provides free antiretroviral drugs to nations covered under the plan. Both Aurobindo Pharma and Ranbaxy Laboratories have been notified by the FDA that certain of their medications will be eligible for purchase through PEPFAR. In addition, the World Health Organization has reinstated seven of Ranbaxy’s generic ARVs, which had been removed from its pre-qualification list late in 2004 pending retesting. (Reuters 24/6, 31/5, 12/8; 20/6)

Over the objections of conservative clerics and politicians, the government of Malaysia has announced a pilot harm reduction program offering free syringes, condoms, and methadone to drug users, who account for 75 percent of the country’s HIV-positive population. The methadone pilot begins in October and the syringe and condom programs will start in January 2006. If they are successful after six months, the government expects to implement them on a national scale.

The new harm reduction strategies have met with some strong objections, particularly in the country’s Muslim community. But others see no alternative. “Distributing needles and condoms is not a permissive stance. It is a preventive stance,” said Datuk Zainal Abidin Zin, chair of the National Association for the Prevention of Drug Abuse and also deputy defense minister. (New Straits Times, 8/2/05)

The Global Fund is ceasing its support for HIV/AIDS programs in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, following the military-led government’s recent adoption of measures that would “effectively prevent the implementation of…programs in the country,” according to a Global Fund statement. The announcement on 18 August means that the Fund will withdraw US$98.4 million that it had allocated to fight HIV/ADS, malaria, and tuberculosis in Myanmar, which has the second highest HIV prevalence in Southeast Asia and among the highest tuberculosis rates in the world. (Global Fund, 18/8/05)

While expressing “considerable regret” over the decision to withdraw from Myanmar, the Fund noted that recent restrictions on travel and supply procurement would “frustrate [the Fund’s] ability…to carry out its obligations.” Furthermore, “the travel restrictions appear to be the most recent manifestation of a gradual change in the government’s attitude toward international and national humanitarian efforts in Myanmar over the past few weeks.” (Global Fund, 18/8/05)

Some observers have suggested that the Global Fund’s departure may stem from U.S. pressure. Washington has long been critical of the military regime, and, according to Jean-Luc Lemahieu, chair of the Fund for HIV/AIDS in Myanmar, the U.N Development Program has also come under pressure from the U.S. to limit its activities there. (The Irrawaddy, 8/10/05, Reuters, 19/8/05)