Pope Francis will be in Myanmar next week in a 2-nation apostolic journey, which will also take him to neighbouring Bangladesh.
During his Nov. 27 to 30 stay in Myanmar, the Pope will not only proclaim Christ’s message of “reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace”, as he said in a recent video message to the nation, but will also confirm “the faith and Gospel witness of the people of Myanmar.”
Catholics in Myanmar comprise just over one percent of the nation’s some 53 million population that is mostly Buddhist. Most of the Catholics live in the poor, rural parts of the country. Despite its small number, the Catholic community is engaged in several projects that reach out to the poor, in the spirit of the Gospel. One such area is caring for those hit by HIV/AIDS.
Philippa Hitchen, who is in Myanmar to report on the Pope’s upcoming visit, caught up with Julia Aye Thide, coordinator of Myanmar Catholic HIV/AIDS Network (MCHAN), to find out how they are working. Julia first explained to her the seriousness of the HIV/AIDS situation in the south-east Asian nation.
Julia said that of the 212,000 people hit by HIV/AIDS in Myanmar only about a third can have access to antiretroviral therapy (ART). MCHAN interacts and coordinates with government and non-governmental organizations (NGO) working in this sector.
Julia said that many of those affected by HIV/AIDS live in rural. They need to come to towns and cities for treatment but many cannot make it because of the lack or cost of transport. This is one area where the Church steps in, providing not only transport but also nutrition and accommodation during their treatment.
Julia said that most get infected with HIV through intravenous drug use. Many women also get infected by their husbands who are away from home looking for work. There are also many children with HIV/AIDS.
Since the disease is linked to sexuality it is a taboo in Myanmar society. But the Church is fighting the trend by educating the people on human sexuality, especially instructing adults, youth, teenagers and catechists.
According to MCHAN figures HIV/AIDS rate in Myanmar is rising but the government claims it is falling. The rising trend could be explained because more and more people are aware of the treatment available and are coming forward.
The Church is fighting HIV/AIDS by educating people to relationship and morality. It is also networking with other faiths engaged in the sector, such as with Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians.