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 Tuesday 02 December 2008
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MYANMAR: Thousands dying for lack of treatment

Photo: Médecins Sans Frontières
An MSF counsellor explains to a patient how to take his antiretroviral treatment
JOHANNESBURG, 26 November 2008 (PlusNews) - Thousands of people living with HIV in Myanmar (Burma) are dying because the government and international donors are not funding life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, says international humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

In a report released today, MSF said it could not continue shouldering the main burden of responding to Myanmar's HIV crisis, in which around 240,000 people are infected.

Of the 76,000 people in Myanmar estimated to be in need of ARVs, only about 20 percent are getting the drugs, the majority of them (about 11,000) through MSF.

According to both the MSF report and UNAIDS, the government has allocated only US$200,000 to HIV/AIDS in 2008 and is providing ARVs to around 2,000 patients. MSF is still awaiting permission to start providing ARVs in parts of the country where treatment is only available in the private sector.

Most of Myanmar's population live on an average of the equivalent of US$1.20 per day, putting the cost of buying ARVs in the private sector far beyond their means. MSF notes in its report that in 2007 around 25,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses.

"A similar number of people could suffer the same fate in 2008 unless there is a significant increase in accessible ART [antiretroviral treatment]," said MSF operations manager Joe Belliveau.

According the United Nations Development Programme, the government spends just 0.3 percent of its gross domestic product on health - the lowest in the world - and the country is also the second lowest per capita recipient of international development aid.

MSF's Country Director in Myanmar, Frank Smithuis, pointed out that most developing countries received significant donor support for their national HIV programmes, but few of the major AIDS donors have given money to Myanmar.

"I don't want to take away the responsibility of the government, but if you look at Laos, they only spent US$30,000 [of government money] on ART, but they have 95 percent coverage because they get a lot of international donor money," Smithuis told IRIN/PlusNews. "You can talk about politics for days but in the meantime there are people dying."

Sun Gang, UNAIDS country director for Myanmar, acknowledged donor concerns about the government's lack of transparency and accountability, but said there had been improvements on these fronts in the past year.

''You can talk about politics for days but in the meantime there are people dying''
Gang confirmed that although a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Myanmar are doing HIV prevention work and providing care to people living with HIV, MSF is among only a handful providing treatment.

"We are reaching our limit," said Smithuis. "We cannot put all the resources we have in the world into Myanmar alone, so we'd really like other organisations to help shoulder the burden and, of course, the Department of Health."

The report says MSF has been forced to make the decision to limit the number of new patients it accepts for treatment, and urges other international NGOs to step in.

"We are supportive of the call to expand international support," said Gang, "but not only for treatment, but also for prevention."

Gang pointed out that men who have sex with men are among the most high risk groups for HIV infection in Myanmar but that only around 10 percent were being reached with prevention interventions.

"In this country, although we see a burning need to get more people on treatment, there's also a burning need to do more prevention."


Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Aid Policy, (PLUSNEWS) Care/Treatment - PlusNews, (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (PLUSNEWS) Prevention - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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