The availability of affordable rapid tests for HIV and successful antiretrovial (ARV) treatments have made a long, healthy life possible for many. Even so, an estimated 60 percent of people living with HIV are unaware of their status, and those who are diagnosed still face a broad range of challenges to accessing treatment, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
For World AIDS Day, we’re sharing stories from some of the countries with the highest prevalence of HIV in the world, where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is working to break stigma and increase access to testing and treatment to communities who would otherwise be cut off from lifesaving care.
Delayed diagnosis or interrupted treatment is devastating for people living with HIV. It leads to increased levels of the virus in their blood, which weakens the immune system and leaves people even more vulnerable to deadly opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis.
Higher virus levels also put the community at risk, increasing the likelihood of transmission. Across communities where it is common for people to default on their treatment or remain undiagnosed, our teams witness widespread infection that can roll back years of progress made on tackling the epidemic.
HIV can be controlled—it is not a death sentence. When treated correctly, patients can live a long and normal life.
When the Myanmar military seized power from the country’s democratically elected government in a coup on February 1, 2021, doctors and nurses were among the first to protest—walking out on their jobs just days after. The strikes, coupled with widespread insecurity and threats against health care workers, have severely impacted the public health care system, including the National AIDS Program (NAP), which provides medication, consultations, and counseling to more than 150,000 people living with HIV.
The political turmoil has wreaked havoc on Myanmar’s public health care system, and many hospitals have shut down or only offer a limited range of services, which means there are few facilities where we can refer HIV patients when their condition is critical and they need more advanced care than what we can offer.