Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the largest provider of HIV treatment in Myanmar, released a report today highlighting the urgency of treating HIV and multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in their country - Myanmar used to be called Burma.
As many as 85,000 people are going without retroviral treatments and another 9,300 are infected with MDR-TB each year, while as few as 300 get any treatment.
The document, entitled Lives in the Balance, highlights the terrible backlash that cancellation of funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria is likely to have on the country and the well being of its population. The worry is of course that without treatment these aggressive and difficult-to treat-diseases start to become more endemic and spread more rapidly. With no expansion to current programs planned up to and including 2014, this is a real concern.
Peter Paul de Groote, Head of Mission, MSF Myanmar said :
"Yet again, donors have turned their backs on people living with HIV and TB in Myanmar ... Everyday we at MSF are confronted with the tragic consequences of these decisions: desperately sick people and unnecessary deaths."
In Myanmar, some 15 to 20,000 HIV infected people die each year of AIDS, almost entirely due to lack of access to antiretroviral drugs, while MDR-TB is at infection rates more than three times the global average, putting the country in the top 30 for the disease. MDR-TB has the same airborne transmission as regular TB, but it is far more complex and lengthy to treat as medicines don't work well against the infection. More worryingly, perfectly healthy people can easily be infected with MDR-TB.
MSF's Dr Khin Nyein Chan:
"Without increased availability of treatment, HIV and TB will continue to spread unchecked in many areas. The time to treat is now ... There is a real opportunity here; HIV prevalence rates in Myanmar are relatively low. It is lack of access to treatment that makes it one of the most serious epidemics in Asia."
Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Asia and has a terribly underfunded public health system, and is one of the lowest recipients of Official Development Aid in the world. Political reform is beginning to take place, which hopefully opens up an opportunity for the international community to engage the issues facing healthcare in Myanmar before the situation gets out of hand.
de Groote concluded :
"The maths is simple. Rapidly scaling up HIV and TB treatment now will prevent further transmission and save both lives and money. Less people infected means fewer lives lost, and less people in need of treatment ... It is critical that donors help Myanmar ensure more patients across the country can receive treatment for HIV and MDR-TB."
Written by Rupert Shepherd