Myanmar Seeks New Ways to Tackle Urgent Health Threat of Drug-Resistant TB

Country?s first international symposium to tackle DR-TB crisis

MSF, the WHO, and Myanmar’s Ministry of Health will host a symposium exploring new ways to accelerate access to treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) throughout the country.

Drawing by George Butler

The entrance to MSF's Hlaingtharyar Clinic in Yangon.

Yangon/New York, August 22, 2013—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization will host a symposium this week exploring new ways to accelerate access to treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) throughout the country.

The symposium, Turning the Tide on TB: Tackling DR-TB/HIV-co-infection in Myanmar, will be held today and tomorrow in Yangon. The symposium will see experts from Myanmar and other high-burden TB countries, along with international leaders in the field, come together to share their knowledge and experience in tackling DR-TB. Opportunities to improve treatment and increase cure rates through patient-centered approaches to care, new diagnostics and new drugs will be discussed, as well as the specific needs of marginalized groups such as prisoners and migrant workers.

“High-burden TB countries must show leadership in tackling this crisis and seize new ways to increase DR-TB care today, as well as push for access to new drugs for tomorrow,” said Dr. Unni Karunakara, MSF’s international president. “Myanmar is demonstrating this leadership through its expanding DR-TB program, yet there remains a long way to go. Strengthened partnerships and innovation are needed at all levels—national and international—to ensure effective treatment reaches all those who desperately need it.”

Close to 9,000 people in Myanmar are diagnosed with DR-TB every year, but only a fraction are currently being treated. In 2012, only 800 people were on treatment. Untreated, the airborne and infectious disease is fatal. Rapid scale-up of DR-TB care is urgently needed country-wide to save lives and stem the unchecked crisis.

New treatment approaches and regimens are critical to ensuring that more people are treated and ultimately cured. The current DR-TB regime lasts two years and is expensive. It is also highly toxic, producing excruciating side effects, including extreme nausea, deafness, or even psychosis. Patients must swallow up to 20 pills a day and endure eight months of daily injections, yet only around half have a chance of being cured, according to global statistics.

“The side effects from the treatment were strong and it was really difficult to manage,” said Ko Min Naing Oo, a cured multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) patient from Myanmar.”I felt dizziness, pain in my buttocks from all the injections, and problems with my hearing. I felt nauseous when I smelled cooking, found myself easily getting angry, constantly weak and tired, always having diarrhea, and experiencing hallucinations.”

The symposium will conclude with recommendations for ways forward, in support of Myanmar’s ambitious plans to make DR-TB care widely available.

“No country can afford to ignore the human and financial cost of the global DR-TB epidemic,” said Dr. Karunakara. “It’s one of the most pressing medical crises today. All DR-TB patients in Myanmar, and throughout the world, do not have years to wait for a chance of cure - the time to act is now.”

Ko Min Naing Oo is committed to raising awareness about the disease and providing peer support for new patients. He launches his inaugural post as Myanmar’s first blogger on the global TB&ME patient platform today

MSF has been providing health care in Myanmar since 1992 to millions of people from many ethnic origins. Across Myanmar, MSF provides over 30,000 people living with HIV/AIDS with life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. It was among the first responders to cyclones Nargis and Giri, providing medical assistance, survival items and clean water sources for tens of thousands of people.

For patient stories, please go to "I Am Healthy Again": MDR-TB Patients in Myanmar Tell Their Stories