Ma Khin Khin* is a mother of four from Palauk township, around 130 kilometres south of Dawei in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region. She is the very first MSF patient in Myanmar to receive the oral treatment, valgancyclovir, for Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis.
CMV retinitis is a preventable disease caused by a virus that attacks the retina of the eye in people with suppressed immune systems, specifically those infected with HIV. If left untreated it can cause total and irreversible blindness.
Until now, patients in Myanmar had to endure uncomfortable injections directly into the eye to treat the disease. Thanks to years-long price negotiations, the more effective oral pill is now available and MSF has started using it in its clinic in Dawei. By 2015, all MSF patients in Myanmar with a diagnosis of CMV retinitis will be receiving the drug.
Ma Khin Khin began receiving treatment with the oral pill in February this year when she was diagnosed with HIV in an advanced clinical stage.
"I fell sick in September 2012. I was exhausted, I could not breathe, and I was coughing all the time. I was working in another country at the time, and I went to see a doctor there who told me I had TB, and I had to go hospital for one month. I took lots of pills that I bought at a non-licensed pharmacy, but I still was not feeling well.
My mother contacted me and told me there was a clinic in Dawei. At that time, I could not even walk straight. My husband and I decided to travel back to Myanmar and to visit this clinic. I was very sick and the doctors there told me I not only had HIV and tuberculosis (TB), but also CMV retinitis. I was very quickly started on three separate treatments: TB, CMV retinitis and a few weeks later on antiretroviral treatment for the HIV. If I had not returned to attend the clinic in Dawei, I would probably be dead.
For the CMV, the doctor said that when he looked into my eyes, he could see a lot of lesions in my retina through the lens. But now, after four months of treatment, that has improved.
I have not felt any side effects and I am feeling better now. Before, it was not like that, and I had to lie down all the time. But now I can go everywhere by myself. I even got my vision back and can read the text messages on my mobile phone.
I understood that the eye injections are very uncomfortable and I would have had to travel to the clinic every week from my village which is seven hours away.
If I didn’t get the treatment on time, I might have lost my vision within three months. I feel very lucky that I got the chance to take this oral treatment."
*Name has been changed to protect patient’s privacy