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Mini-film series shows challenges for millions still waiting for AIDS revolution

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sun, 1 Dec 2013 12:15 AM
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Members of the local community attend an information meeting run by Service Yezu Mwiza (SYM- Good Jesus) about the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV at the health centre in Gatumba, outside Bujumbura, in Burundi, April 19, 2013. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The fight against HIV/AIDS has been hailed as one of the most successful public health projects in human history - but for millions of people excluded from treatment that promise is still unfulfilled, according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontières.

AIDS is still the number one killer of young women of child-bearing age – not just in sub-Saharan Africa, but globally, and three out of four pregnant women with HIV are not receiving treatment – all of them in developing countries, MSF said.

“See What We See” is a series of six short films and a mini-documentary that highlight challenges for people living with HIV in Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, South Africa and Myanmar.

The films show a lack of HIV testing, people starting treatment too late to survive or struggling to continue treatment, the neglect of children with HIV, pregnant women dying from AIDS and discrimination of HIV-positive people.

“AIDS deaths are now rare in rich countries, but every day 4,000 people, the majority in developing countries, still die unnecessarily from the disease,” Gilles van Cutsem, medical director for MSF in South Africa and Lesotho, said in a statement.

The films also highlight proven strategies for community-based care that puts more people on treatment earlier and helps them adhere to treatment in the long-term, MSF said.

If donors fail to meet a minimum $15 billion replenishment target for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – at an international meeting to be hosted in the United States this week – some HIV/AIDS endemic countries may be left behind, crippling the momentum built over the last 12 years, MSF said.

In most places with high HIV rates, like South Africa, Swaziland and Malawi, access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) has dramatically improved over the last decade. 

But one in four people who start HIV treatment in low-and middle-income countries do so dangerously late, according to UNAIDS.

In countries like DRC, Guinea, Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar — timely treatment remains out of reach for the majority of people who urgently need it despite the fact that these countries are considered to have low HIV prevalence levels, MSF said.

Maria Machako, a doctor at MSF’s HIV hospital in DRC, said people often arrive at their hospital in the capital Kinshasa when they are already critically ill with full-blown AIDS.

“For many people, it’s too late and they are literally dying on our doorstep,” Machako said in the statement.  “25 percent do not survive and 39 percent of the deaths occur within 48 hours.” 

In DRC, the most optimistic estimates indicate that less than 30 percent of the 243,000 people who are eligible for antiretroviral treatment today have access, MSF said. 

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