Lives in the Balance: MSF report exposes threat of HIV and TB in Myanmar

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TB patients at MSF clinic in Myanmar (Photo: MSF video)

Nine-year-old Phoe Lone was diagnosed with HIV at the age of two, after both his parents passed away and he became increasingly ill.  He began receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) one year later, one of the 23,000 people living with HIV in Myanmar who receive treatment from Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF).  Today, he is healthy.

Phoe’s story is highlighted in MSF’s new report, “Lives in the balance: The urgent need for HIV and TB treatment in Myanmar.”  The report highlights the dire situation of people infected with and affected by HIV and/or tuberculosis (TB), with a particular emphasis on multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).  Each year, 15,000 – 20,000 people infected with HIV die in Myanmar due to lack of access to ART.  Although 120,000 people living with HIV are eligible for ART, only 30,000 are receiving it, with MSF providing the bulk of treatment.  In addition, there are 9,300 new cases of MDR-TB each year in Myanmar, but only an estimated 300 people are receiving treatment.  TB is leading cause of death among people infected with HIV, causing one in four deaths among HIV patients.

Success stories like Phoe’s will become increasingly rare as MSF loses the ability to expand treatment coverage thanks to diminished funding, particularly from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the report authors argue.  With the cancellation of the Global Fund’s Round 11 funding cycle, there will be no new funding opportunities to expand treatment for HIV and TB until 2014. “Diseases don’t respect such delayed timelines. HIV and TB will continue to spread – unchecked – in many areas. The time to treat them is NOW,” according to the report.

MSF clinics are at the limits of their capacity and have already been forced to turn away patients who show up seeking treatment.  According to World Health Organization guidelines, patients with a CD4 count of less than 350 should receive ART. In Myanmar, however, MSF enrolls a patient into ART when their CD4 count is less than 150, because they only have the resources to treat the very sick.

According to the report, this is a defining moment in the battle against HIV and TB.  “Donors have a real opportunity, and responsibility, to help build on those foundations laid to address the gap between need and access to treatment for those living with HIV and TB in Myanmar.”

Click here to read the report and to watch a video on Myanmar’s struggles with HIV and TB.

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