Dec 02, 2008

Burma: AIDS Epidemic

Active ImageMedecins San Frontieres comment on grave situation in Burma.
Below is an article published by the Radio Australia:
[Yesterday was] World AIDS Day. As the world continues to count the cost of the global epidemic, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres says many people continue to die needlessly, because they can't access anti-AIDS drugs. In Burma, where nearly a quarter of a million people are believed to be HIV-positive, MSF says less than a fifth of those most in need of anti-retroviral therapy are getting the drugs they need. MSF wants the government, and international donor organisations, to start taking more responsibility.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Joe Belliveau, operations manager, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Amsterdam

JOE BELLIVEAU: MSF started treating patients in Burma about five years ago in 2003 and at that time there was absolutely no treatment offered by any other organisation or indeed by the government of Burma. Since that time the government has started a national AIDS program and other organisations have also started to treat. However the scale of what's been offered is vastly short of what's needed. So the government has stepped in, they have shown that they can treat and they have started to treat but the numbers are just paltry compared to the needs.

SEN LAM: So the government has responded to your call for it to start funding and supporting these programs?

JOE BELLIVEAU: No, the funding falls well short of what's needed. What I mean is more that the government has started a program at all. So in fact they have about 2,000 patients on treatment. At this moment in time there are about 76,000 people in Burma who are in desperate need of antiretroviral treatment. That means they've reached the life-threatening stage of the disease and if they don't get ART very soon they're going to die. So the government has about 2,000 patients on antiretrovirals. MSF has about 11,000 and there are a few other organisations that have very low numbers of people on ART so you can see the gap between what's needed urgently and it's huge compared to what's offered.

SEN LAM: And, Joe Belliveau, you've impressed on the Burmese junta the urgency of the problem, as you've just said. Burma's junta didn't listen to the world post cyclone Nargis. What makes you think they will change their minds now and start listening now?
JOE BELLIVEAU: Our call is not only to the junta - it certainly is to the Burmese government to step up, to put more funding into health care in general and specifically into HIV AIDS programming, but it's also to the international community, which has also been very reluctant to put money into aid programs for Burma. And so we're calling for both the government and international donors to really now put efforts into scaling up and I think we've set up a system that's quite replicable but now it just needs to be taken up by both the government and international organisations.

SEN LAM: And, Joe, I understand HIV infection rates are rising in Asia according to the World Health Organisation, so is the message of prevention and safe sex not getting through?

JOE BELLIVEAU: There are quite a few programs run through non-governmental organisations in Burma. I don't know about neighbouring countries so much but I know in Burma there is a fair amount going into the prevention side of things but at a time when the immediate crisis is so massive, I mean it's not time for prevention. Those kind of programs should go, they should be happening but it's time now for treatment. Treatment is there, it's not that expensive, it can be delivered in an efficient manner and it's really time now for people to start treating people with HIV AIDS.