The Ministry of Health plans to spend K200 million (about US$2.3 million) on HIV/AIDS medicine this financial year, a ministry spokesperson told The Myanmar Times last week.
The ministry is planning to buy large quantities of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) drugs to distribute through the state health system, via the National AIDS Program, as part of efforts to scale up HIV prevention and treatment services in Myanmar, Department of Health deputy director Dr Saw Lwin said.
It will be the largest amount the government has spent on ART in a single financial year.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that ART suppresses the HIV virus and stops it from progressing when at least three types of the drug are taken in combination.
According to a report published by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in February 2012, between 15,000 and 20,000 people in Myanmar die every year because they don not have access to life-saving ART drugs.
The increased spending on ART is part of an overall four-fold increase in funding for the Ministry of Health this year, Dr Saw Lwin said, adding that 4 percent of the health budget is allocated to HIV, while 10pc is spent on fighting tuberculosis and 7pc on malaria.
According to ministry figures from 2010, more than 230,000 people in Myanmar are HIV-positive and more than 76,000 urgently require ART to boost counts of a type of white blood cell that fights infection, known as CD4.
Despite the increased provision of ART drugs, Dr Saw Lwin said many patients would still miss out.
“Governments in developing countries struggle to pay for enough ART to supply everyone with HIV. We will continue to rely on donors for assistance,” he said.
On World AIDS Day in December 2011, Minister for Health Dr Pe Thet Khin said that although rates of HIV infection had decreased, ART needed to be made more widely available for those already infected.
The shortfall in supply of ART treatment is still too wide, agreed a spokesperson from Myanmar Positive Group, a network of 214 self-help groups formed by people living with HIV and AIDS.
Until 2010, only 29,825 people received ART – just 39pc of those who required it.
ART treatment is needed when a person’s CD4 cell count is below 200 but WHO recommends it be given when the CD4 cell count drops below 350.
If the latter figure is used, an estimated 120,000 people in Myanmar need ART treatment.
In Myanmar, MSF is the largest provider of ART, distributing the medicine to about 23,000 people every year.
The government’s National AIDS Program is designed to boost efforts to control and prevent HIV and AIDS in Myanmar and is active in more than 250 townships.
A spokesperson for the ministry would not disclose how many patients would receive ART from the K200 million funding or how much the ministry allocated in the previous year.
But the deputy director said the ministry plans to be more transparent about its ART provision activities, including the number of people it supports.