Tuesday, December 2, 2008
I lost two cousins back-to-back to AIDS a couple of years ago. One was a famous rock star in Myanmar (Burma) Ba Din -- most people of my generation would remember him. He's one of those rare musicians that actually composed his own music. Most music in Burma are just the western music in Burmese. (Try listening to "My Heart Will Go On" in Burmese it's horrible, though Eminem is not bad.) The other cousin was his brother -- one of the first generation Burmese programmers. Ko Ba Din, ("Ko" is a title of respect and love that the Burmese endow upon older brothers.) left behind a wife and a son. Ko Kwa's wife disappeared shortly after his death and many suspect her to be dead.
Incidentally, probably that same year, 2000, I had called my father to tell him that a report came out from the World Health Organization (WHO) that said that Myanmar had the highest HIV infection rate. Our health care system was ranked 190 when there's only 191 countries. Read the SF Chronicle article here. My father denied the facts, of course, as any good career diplomat would over the tapped phone lines. I understood something was up. And sure enough a couple of months down the line, my other cousin who was studying in Illinois emails me to tell me that Ko Kwa passed away from some sort of illness. I don't even know if he himself knew that it was AIDS related then.
Fast forward eight years to 2008 -- there's a ton of orphans in Myanmar right now because a lot of people from my cousins' generation are dead. Still to this day, nobody really knows how many Burmese are HIV-positive but the recent press release from UNAIDS estimates that about 240,000 people in Myanmar are infected. According to the Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) 76,000 Burmese are in urgent need to antiretroviral treatment or else they will die needlessly (Most likely producing more orphans). Apparently, Myanmar receives the lowest humanitarian aid -- USD $3.00 per person only. Probably the lowest in the region compared to her neighboring countries.
This is not surprising to me, I went to Myanmar right after the Cyclone Nargis. Literally, I landed right after the skies were cleared. I wasn't used to living without electricity or proper water, but my family and neighbors managed. My mom cooked me my favorite dishes, they found stuff even when prices where going through the roof. My aunt even got me some frog curry (Ya I have weird taste in food, I can be Anthony Bourdain's apprentice). My dad put me back on the plane as fast as he could. When I came back to India, I saw that Myanmar made New York Times headlines for a couple days. As I ask myself: why do we make headlines only when monks or students get shot or a major cyclone disaster hits? Then, I check another email from the New York Times, this is a sad one: Myanmar didn't make it on the "most emailed" articles list of that week. People were more concerned about the Emmy nominations.
So this World AIDS Day, are people really concerned about AIDS or are they more concerned about Cyber Mondays and Mobile Tuesdays? Are they concerned about who to invite to their Christmas party, or their jobs, Britney Spears's new documentary on MTV, or world peace? What are folks really worried about? If you're really concerned about AIDS and the dying children in Burma, you can go ahead and send some cash to Doctors Without Borders by clicking here.
Because if you really care, saving a life is only a couple of clicks away.
Photo by Sully Pixel