MSF Hands Over Transnistria HIV/AIDS Projects

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has announced the closure of its HIV/AIDS-treatment projects in Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova unrecognized by the international community.

MSF has now handed over its HIV/AIDS program in Transnistrian prisons to local counterparts and the Ministry of Health, after already handing over activities from the civil sector in December, 2008. The projects were deemed a success after MSF established quality HIV/AIDS medical care for the population, following strong advocacy that international health resources allocated for Moldova also reach Transnistria.

MSF set up the program in 2007 to address the urgent needs of Transnistria's HIV positive population which makes up nearly 30 per cent of Moldova's HIV positive population but one-eighth of its total population. MSF enrolled more than 860 patients into the treatment program, more than half of all registered people living with HIV\AIDS in the region. Over 180 of the patients are now receiving anti-retroviral medicines, as their health conditions require it.

“MSF was the first international aid organization to directly assist people living with HIV/AIDS in this politically-isolated region. Our presence has demonstrated to local and international stakeholders that it is possible to work in Transnistria and provide aid to the most vulnerable regions,” said Head of Mission Mark Walsh.

A predominantly Russian-speaking strip of land separated from Moldova by the river Niester and once the scene of a violent separatist war, Transnistria is one of the unresolved post-Soviet “frozen” conflicts. In spite of huge needs, little international aid has reached the unrecognized region, despite the enormous assistance Moldova receives from international institutions to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic. MSF strongly advocated for better resource flow from Moldova to Transnistria and finally in Spring 2008, Global Fund antiretroviral drugs that were accessible in Moldova gradually became more available in Transnistria. Although a positive step for the HIV/AIDS-affected population of Transnistria, much more must be done to treat and tackle the disease.

“There certainly has been progress in treating HIV/AIDS in Transnistria. However, there is still much to be done, not least with HIV/TB co-infection as well as in other areas of health. It is now up to the relevant bodies to ensure this vulnerable population has continued access to quality healthcare,” says Walsh.

Between 2007 and 2009, MSF opened an HIV clinic in Tiraspol, conducted trainings for local health professionals, provided antiretroviral medicines and lab materials, and rehabilitated and equipped the health facilities. The program activities also included medical work in the co-infection ward of the Bender TB hospital, the in-patient department in Slobozia, a polyclinic in Ribnitsa, as well as HIV/AIDS treatment in three Transnistrian prisons. MSF also equipped a state-of-the-art laboratory which provides biochemistry and hematology analysis along with the ability to measure immune system strength. The final component of the project involved training local medical and laboratory personnel to then guarantee the sustainability of the program after MSF’s emergency intervention ceased.