MSF hands over prison HIV treatment programme in Transnistria, Moldova

The projects were deemed a success after MSF established quality HIV/AIDS medical care for the population following strong advocacy efforts that international health resources allocated for Moldova also reach Transnistria.

MSF set up the program in 2007 to address the urgent needs of the Transnistrian HIV-positive population which constitutes almost 30 percent of the HIV cases in all of Moldova, yet Transnistria is only one-eighth of the total population. MSF enrolled more than 860 patients into the treatment programme - more than half of all registered people living with HIV/AIDS in the region. Over 180 of the patients are now receiving anti-retroviral medicines, based on their health conditions.

“MSF was the first international aid organisation to directly assist people living with HIV/AIDS in this politically isolated region,” said Mark Walsh, MSF Head of Mission. "Our presence has demonstrated to local and international stakeholders that it is possible to work in Transnistria and provide aid to the most vulnerable regions."

A predominantly Russian-speaking strip of land separated from Moldova by the river Niester and once the scene of a violent separatist war, Transnistria is one of the unresolved post-Soviet "frozen” conflicts. In spite of the huge needs, little international aid has reached the unrecognized region, despite the enormous assistance Moldova receives from international institutions to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

MSF strongly advocated for a better flow of resources from Moldova to Transnistria. Finally, in the Spring of 2008, antiretroviral drugs financed by the Global Fund, that were already accessible in Moldova, gradually became more available in Transnistria. Although a positive step for the HIV/AIDS-affected population of Transnistria, much more must be done to treat and tackle the disease.

“There certainly has been progress in treating HIV/AIDS in Transnistria. However, there is still much to be done, not least with HIV/TB coinfection as well as in other areas of health. It is now up to the relevant bodies to ensure that this vulnerable population has continued access to quality healthcare,” said Walsh.

Between 2007 and 2009, MSF opened an HIV clinic in Tiraspol, conducted trainings for the local health professionals, provided antiretroviral medicines and lab materials, and rehabilitated and equipped the health facilities. The programme activities also included medical work in the co-infection ward of the Bender TB hospital, the in-patient department in Slobozia, a polyclinic in Ribnitsa, as well as HIV/AIDS treatment in three Transnistrian prisons. MSF also equipped a state-of-the-art laboratory that provides biochemistry and haematology analysis along with the ability to measure immune system strength. The final component of the project involved training local medical and laboratory personnel to ensure the sustainability of the programme after MSF’s emergency intervention ceased.