"We’re having to treat very severe infections as fast as we can”  

Dr David Maman, MSF epidemiologist. Zipporah Aluoch Odongo (photo) is being treated for advanced HIV and Kaposi's Sarcoma in Homa Bay, Kenya

Photograph by Patrick Meinhardt
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Why isn’t better access to HIV treatment enough?

With defenses down, infections strike.

Unless people living with HIV get consistent testing to monitor their health, plus ongoing treatment with the right medicines, the virus can continue to attack and severely weaken their immunity. And someone with a damaged immune system can be extremely vulnerable to opportunistic infections like tuberculosis, cryptococcal meningitis and Kaposi’s Sarcoma.

Our challenge is that we don’t have the right tests to identify all of those complications – and the tests we do have don’t work in all the conditions where we deliver care.

What’s more, the drugs that treat opportunistic infections are very expensive.

Zipporah got an HIV test in 2016. But by the time she came to our clinic in Homa Bay, Kenya, the following year, she had developed Kaposi’s Sarcoma.

It’s a form of cancer that can appear in the late stages of HIV infection, especially if effective antiviral (ARV) treatment is not available.

Our doctors scheduled her for chemotherapy right away.

We treat many patients like Zipporah, who are living with advanced HIV and facing a range of life-threatening illnesses that are hard to treat.

We continue to see very high death rates in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa among people living with the virus - even where they have had access to ARV treatment.

The majority of these patients have advanced HIV, or AIDS.

The world has come far in expanding treatment for those living with the virus in sub-Saharan Africa, the heart of the epidemic.

But without affordable medical tools adapted to people’s lives and the conditions where we work, many people will continue to die of complications from HIV.  

 

Three things to know about HIV/AIDS

What MSF staff are saying

Portrait of Dr. Willy Tshimbombo at CHK hospital in Kinshasa run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Photograph by Kris Pannecoucke

"The big challenge we face at CHK hospital is that these patients often arrive at a very late stage. We fight to keep them alive but often we know very little about them. Their status is often hidden from their family members who bring them in.”"

Dr. Willy Tshimbombo, Medical team leader, Kinshasa, DRC

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HIV/AIDS