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February 21, 2012

Clinics Turn Away HIV, TB Patients in Burma

The French medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says cuts in international aid for treating HIV and tuberculosis are putting tens of thousands of lives at risk in Burma.

More HIV, TB patients at risk

Doctors Without Borders says two thirds of HIV patients in Burma in need of antiretroviral therapy cannot get it.

That leaves 85,000 people susceptible to diseases like tuberculosis, responsible for a quarter of all AIDS-related deaths.

The group, known by its French abbreviation MSF, says every year there are an estimated 9,300 new cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis, but to date only 300 are treated.

To help close the gap, MSF expected to receive financial support under a new round of aid from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. But, in November, it was abruptly cancelled because of a shortage of cash from donor nations.

Increase in funding, disperate need

Peter Paul de Groote is head of the group’s operations in Burma, also known as Myanmar. He says the funding would have expanded treatment dramatically. “So, with the cancellation of round 11 that is not happening now, which means 46,500 people for HIV that could have been receiving treatment over the coming years and about 10,000 people for multi-drug-resistant TB will not be receiving this treatment because the money is not coming into the country,” he explained.

MSF says HIV prevalence in Burma is relatively low, but lack of treatment makes it one of the most serious epidemics in Asia.

The United Nations says between 15,000 and 20,000 people living with HIV die every year in Burma because they are not treated.

The prevalence of TB in Burma is nearly three times the global average.

MSF is the largest supplier of anti-retroviral therapy in Burma, where health care makes up a tiny fraction of government spending.

Burma is expected this year to increase its budget for health care, but is still dependent on foreign aid.