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Under junta scrutiny, Myanmar HIV clinic and orphanage at risk of closure

The Nurture AIDS Center (NAC) in Ward 11 of Yangon’s East Dagon township is a place of refuge for orphans and patients with HIV/AIDS in Myanmar’s commercial capital. The center cares for a total of 150 people – 94 children and 66 adults – and spends 400,000 kyats (U.S. $225) per day to provide them with food, medicine, and other necessities.


But times have been tough for the NAC in the 14 months since the military’s Feb. 1, 2021 coup, with the economy devastated by a combination of factors including mismanagement, widespread unrest, Western sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.


The center has also come under the scrutiny of the junta since its founder, a former lawmaker for the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) named Phyu Phyu Thin, joined the shadow Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Committee of Representatives (CRPH) after the military takeover.


Phyu Phyu Thin established the NAC in 2012 and had cared for the center’s orphans and patients with the help of NLD youth volunteers but was forced to abandon her work and flee to an area under the control of an armed ethnic group to avoid arrest. She was stripped of her citizenship by the junta on March 7.


Yar Zar, the man who assumed her duties at the NAC and is known by the residents there as “Aba,” was arrested by security forces on March 2 and is now facing charges of “money laundering” and “terrorism.” The junta froze the center’s bank accounts in connection with the arrest.


The volunteers who remain at the NAC told RFA’s Myanmar Service that they now face regular harassment from the junta and the donors they rely on are afraid to be associated with the center.


One volunteer named Aung Kyaw Lin said that as donations have dried up, the NAC now only has enough food and supplies left for slightly more than a week.


“This past week, we received some donations, but not much,” he said.


“Right now, we can only afford to provide very basic meals, unless we receive aid. We used to be able to afford meat twice a week but can only do so once a week these days.”


Thae Thae, a resident of the NAC, said even the center’s rice supplies are running low.


“We have been relying solely on donations to feed more than 100 people. But they come infrequently,” he said.


“We need one bag of rice per day and around 100 bags for three months. We receive donations of one or two bags occasionally, and that’s what we are living on.”


Thae Thae said the food shortage is seriously impacting the health those who rely on the center, as they include people ranging in age from two months to over sixty years old.


‘We would have to close’


He expressed concern that the center could also be shut down because there is no longer anyone in charge.


“We saw the news that they arrested [Yar Zar], so many donors might be thinking that [junta] informers are watching the center and they might be arrested as well,” he said.


“If the donations don’t come, the center won’t be able to survive anymore. We would have to close. But if these people are forced to live on the street, they won’t have access to regular medicine, and without regular dosages, they will face an increased HIV viral load … Their health will deteriorate severely.”


The residents of the NAC are mostly homeless or were abandoned by their families. The children who live there are being provided with opportunities that they would never have had on their own, including the chance to study English and a vocation under the tutelage of the NLD volunteers.


Wai Yan Moe, a 13-year-old who is studying at the seventh-grade level at the NAC, told RFA he doesn’t know what he will do if the center is forced to close.


“We are worried that Aba won’t be back, and the center will be gone,” he said.


“I have no other home and no place to go. I have only ever lived under Aba’s roof.”


Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.