Treating HIV/AIDS in DRC: After 20 years, MSF sees progress and problems

Two decades ago, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was the first to provide free antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to people living with HIV in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The high price and scarcity of ARVs in 2002 were the equivalent of a death sentence for so many people at the time, the program was quickly overwhelmed.

Since then, MSF has been a key player in the fight against HIV/AIDS in DRC, and much progress has been made. But an ongoing lack of funding, training for care providers, and ARVs has caused thousands of preventable deaths due to HIV/AIDS every year. “To realize today that we still have a long way to go,” says Dr. Maria Mashako, who has worked at MSF’s clinic in the capital Kinshasa for 20 years. “It’s very frustrating to see that patients still arrive in (severely ill) condition.”

More than 500,000 people are living with HIV in DRC today, and one in five people still do not have access to treatment, according to the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Only one-third of the children who need treatment are receiving it. Last year, HIV/AIDS caused nearly 14,000 deaths, and close to 20,000 people were newly infected. In 2015, United Nations (UN) member states committed to ending AIDS by 2030 as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In DRC, MSF sees that unless donor countries make a much stronger effort to meet the needs, HIV/AIDS will not be a disease of the past any time soon.