For Immediate Release
Myanmar: Urgent Lack of HIV/AIDS Treatment Threatens Thousands
Geneva, Amsterdam, Yangon - Thousands of people are needlessly dying due to a severe lack of lifesaving HIV/AIDS treatment in Myanmar,
said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors
Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a report released
today. Unable to continue shouldering the primary responsibility for
responding to one of Asia's worst HIV crises, MSF insists that the
government of Myanmar and international organizations urgently and
rapidly scale-up the provision of antiretroviral therapy (ART).
An estimated 240,000 people are thought to be living with HIV/AIDS
in Myanmar. Among them, 76,000 are in urgent need of antiretroviral
treatment, yet less than 20 percent of them are currently able to
"Last year, around 25,000 people died of AIDS related illnesses,"
said MSF Operations Manager Joe Belliveau. "A similar number of people
could suffer the same fate in 2008 unless there is a significant
increase in accessible antiretroviral treatment."
With more than 11,000 people in treatment for HIV in the country,
MSF is providing the majority of ART in the country. The government of
Myanmar and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide
"It is unacceptable that a single NGO is treating the vast majority
of HIV patients in a crisis of this magnitude," said Belliveau. "It is
unacceptable because it is wholly inadequate. We cannot meet the needs,
and we therefore call upon those who can to take up this
Pushed to its limit, MSF has recently been forced to make the
painful decision to drastically reduce the number of new patients it
will treat. With so few other actors providing ART, there is little
option to refer new patients for treatment elsewhere. "With so many
needs still unmet, we strongly urge all actors, led by the government,
to scale-up the provision of ART," said Belliveau.
The urgent need for increased treatment is evident, yet investment
from both inside and outside of the country remains grossly
insufficient. In 2007, the Government of Myanmar spent just $0.70 USD
per person on health care, with a paltry $200,000 USD allocated for
HIV/AIDS in 2008. This sum is hugely disproportionate when compared to
the extent of the needs and availability of resources. The government
of Myanmar has proven its ability to treat HIV/AIDS patients in the
public sector, but must commit the necessary resources to scale-up.
Likewise, the level of international humanitarian aid is strikingly
low, around $3 USD per person, one of the lowest rates worldwide. This
is significantly less than the far greater amounts received by nearby
countries facing similar epidemics. Few of the big international donors
provide resources out of concern over the appropriate and effective use
of aid in the country, yet it is the people of Myanmar who suffer as a
result. A 29 year-old male ART patient in Myanmar best explains why
more should be done. "It is everyone's responsibility to fight against
this disease. All people must have a spirit of humanity in helping HIV
patients regardless of nation, organization, and government."
MSF's work has shown that even though working in Myanmar can be
challenging, providing lifesaving HIV/AIDS care and treatment directly
to patients is possible. It is long overdue that the government of
Myanmar and other international organizations step-up their efforts and
make ART rapidly and widely available. It is crucial that they act now,
in order to prevent the suffering and needless death of thousands of
MSF has provided essential healthcare services in Myanmar since 1993 and began an integrated program to support people living with HIV/AIDS in 2003. Since then, MSF staff has assisted thousands of HIV patients, working from 23 clinics, in five areas throughout the country. Services include counseling, testing, treatment of opportunistic infections, nutritional support, health education and most importantly antiretroviral treatment.