A grave concern has been raised among refugee communities in Malaysia as an increasing number of people from Burma have been tested HIV-positive.
More than 400 refugees from Burma were estimated to be HIV-infected, of which about 200 were Chin, according to Malaysian Health Care source as quoted by Kuala Lumpur-based Seihnam newsletter late last year.
During an interview about Chin refugees in Malaysia, Chin Refugee Committee (CRC), a community-based volunteer organisation, stressed that the number of HIV-infected refugees is sadly on the increase although the exact number is not known.
“In attempts to respond to this issue, CRC finally puts up efforts in making a shelter for HIV patients, and raises fund for HIV shelters on donation basis. Awareness for HIV patients was also made through HIV Live Aid Concert in 2010,” added CRC Coordinator.
The Alliance of Chin Refugees (ACR), comprised of 17 Chin communities, said health seminars are conducted to educate refugees and to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and other common diseases that effect the refugee community.
Staff members from the UN sometimes come and teach our chidlren, mostly under the age of 16, about health education including HIV/AIDS awareness, said Chairman of Chin Student Organisation (CSO) in Malaysia.
The actual population of HIV-infected refugees from Burma in Malaysia could be much higher than we have known so far as there are still many refugees without the UNHCR registration cards or legal documents who do not happen in this case to get checked up, according to one of the Chin community leaders in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Some allegedly ascribe the ‘undisciplined alcoholic drinking’ practices of Chin refugee men and its negative consequences to the main possible triggers behind the surge in HIV-infected numbers while others relate to a complete lack of knowledge and education on the disease since they were in Chin State, one of the least developed States in Burma.
“Most of the problems including anti-social behaviour, theft, physical assaults, alcohol-related and family issues are committed by those from rural villages in remote parts of Chin State. In Burma, they didn’t go to school and didn’t have education. Hence, they lack in common sense and understanding,” admitted Chairman of Chin Disciplinary Action Committee (CDAC), a community-based body tasked with tackling domestic issues that cause problems to the Chin community in Malaysia.
A report by UNFPA (United Nations Populationo Fund) Myanmar last year said the estimated number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) between 15 to 49 years of age is 230,000 in 2009, of which 35 percent were female.
More than an estimated 45,000 Chin refugees from Burma are currently stranded in Malaysia after fleeing brutalities and various forms of repressions by the military dictatorship in their native places along the Indian-Burma border.