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In Myanmar, stigma and neglect add to HIV misery

Damir Sagolj / Reuters

Ma Jam, a 42 year-old AIDS patient hold hands with 2 year-old HIV positive Kanama at the HIV/AIDS hospice founded by a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the suburbs of Yangon May 26, 2012. Their plight demonstrates the painful limits of democracy in Myanmar. While the government is pursuing reforms that promise to overhaul its health ministry and other institutions, the process is too slow to bring change to its most destitute. There are few better examples than AIDS sufferers, who due to a combination of poor education, social stigma and bureaucratic mismanagement are isolated in clinics, cut off from society.

Damir Sagolj / Reuters

A volunteer measures the blood pressure of HIV-positive patients at the HIV/AIDS hospice founded by a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the suburbs of Yangon on May 26.

Damir Sagolj / Reuters

HIV-positive Eiphyu Khine, whose husband died of AIDS, rests under a mosquito net on May 26.

Reuters reports -- The mother and child who touch hands in an overcrowded Yangon hospice are not family, but their tragic history begins in the blood. Jam, 42, a mother of six, and Kanama, aged 2, are both HIV positive. Abandoned by their families, they must now find comfort in each other, although Jam still yearns for her husband to return to the private HIV hospice in the suburbs of Myanmar's biggest city.

"He promised to come back but I'm afraid he never will," said the woman as she burst into tears. She is known in the hospice by her nickname, Jam.

The hospice is home to 182 HIV patients, whose plight demonstrates the painful limits of Myanmar's new democracy. A reform-minded government has vowed to overhaul a decrepit health system, but little change is likely for HIV/AIDS sufferers, who thanks to social stigma and medical neglect, are shut off in hospices that bring to mind leper colonies.

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Damir Sagolj / Reuters

27 year-old HIV-positive Zinmar Nwe, whose husband died of AIDS, bathes at the HIV/AIDS hospice, founded by a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the suburbs of Yangon on May 26.

Damir Sagolj / Reuters

HIV-positive Ei Ei Phyu, who lives at the hospice with his HIV-positive mother, sleeps in a hammock at the HIV/AIDS hospice founded by a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the suburbs of Yangon on May 26.