Overwhelming problems remain

Efforts are under way in Burma to bolster access to life-prolonging drugs for people with HIV/AIDS, but tens of thousands will probably still be left out, say health experts.

“All the ingredients are there to make this work, but a comprehensive and integrated plan concerning all actors and activities is needed to ensure a proper and rapid implementation,” Peter Paul de Groote, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told IRIN.

Burma International Womens Day

In this photo taken on Thursday, March.7, 2013, an HIV patient woman receives serving from two women at the shelter for HIV/AIDS patients founded by Phyu Phyu Thin, a parliament member of Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party and HIV/AIDS activist, outskirts of Yangon, Burma. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

In June, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria pledged more than US$160 million over the next four years to Burma to improve access to anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for patients, including those in neglected border regions and some controlled by ethnic armed groups.

“The challenge is that some of the areas are not directly managed by the government,” Eamonn Murphy, country coordinator for the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), explained. “However, I think there is a genuine commitment to provide services in these areas.”

According to UNAIDS, 220,000 people are afflicted with HIV in Burma, of whom 120,000 are in need of ARVs. From 2011 to June 2013, ARV treatment coverage climbed from 32 percent of diagnosed patients to nearly 50 percent, inching closer to the government target of 85 percent by the end of 2016.

In 2012, Burma officials declared that the availability of ARV treatment had expanded to nearly 100 sites – up from 57 in 2008. Yet, more than 70 percent of those treated were in the nation’s two largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, along with Kachin State, while coverage in other areas remained inadequate.

The Global Fund is currently in talks with various stakeholders on access to war-torn border regions and expects to roll out services in 2014.

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