On Friday January 26, 2018, Community Partners International (CPI) attended a ceremony hosted by the Myanmar Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) Department of Medical Research (DMR) in Yangon, Myanmar to mark the formal handover and opening of a newly renovated, state-of-the-art laboratory to provide Hepatitis C (HCV) genotyping, diagnostic and monitoring services. The laboratory renovation and upgrade is a part of the one-year EQUIP Hepatitis C project funded by USAID under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through EQUIP. Right to Care is the implementation partner for EQUIP. CPI is leading this project in partnership with the National Hepatitis Control Program, the Department of Medical Research, and the Liver Foundation (Myanmar) to help control the growing HCV epidemic among key populations in Myanmar.
The bloodborne Hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes both acute and chronic hepatitis. Without timely identification and proper treatment, the virus can cause serious and lifelong illness. Antiviral therapy can cure the great majority of HCV cases, but access to diagnosis and treatment is low in many countries around the world. Most infections occur due to exposure to small quantities of blood, possibly through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices or the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products. A significant number of people with chronic HCV develop cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated.
HCV is one of the major public health concerns in Myanmar. An estimated 1.3 million people (2.7% of the population) are estimated to carry the virus. Infection prevalence rates rise to more than 47% among key populations (including people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men and female sex workers) and have been recorded as high as 79.2% in urban centers among people who inject drugs. To address the HCV epidemic, the MoHS formed the National Hepatitis Control Program (NHCP) and treated 2000 patients in 2017. However, current diagnostic capabilities within the Myanmar health system remain limited, hampering efforts to address this growing epidemic.
The newly renovated laboratory provides the Department of Medical Research with an advanced facility for HCV diagnostics, genotyping and monitoring. The laboratory renovations began in December 2017 and included the laying of an epoxy floor and installation of partitions doors and windows, air conditioning and laboratory furniture. This was followed by the installation of advanced instrument systems, including a genetic sequencing analyzer (the first of its kind in Myanmar), a real-time PCR system and reagents required for HCV genotyping.
After opening remarks given by CPI’s Executive Director Dr. Si Thura, handover certificates were exchanged between Dr. Win Pa Pa Naing, Director (Research) of the Department of Medical Research and Dr. Si Thura.
Dr. Hlaing Myat Thu, Deputy Director General of the Department of Medical Research, delivered the words of appreciation in which she emphasized that the renovated laboratory was a strong move in the right direction for Myanmar’s efforts to control HCV. “This demonstration project and generous donation will indeed mark an important milestone for the Ministry of Health and Sports, as in part, it will help to fulfill the objectives of the Ministry of Health and Sports, which are to enable every citizen to attain full life expectancy and enjoy longevity of life and to ensure that every citizen is free from diseases,” she said. Dr. Hlaing Myat Thu closed by saying that this partnership marked an important step for friendship and cooperation between key institutions.
As the ceremony drew to a close, Dr. Hlaing Myat Thu presented Dr. Si Thura with a certificate of appreciation to acknowledge CPI’s key role in leading the EQUIP Hepatitis C Project and overseeing the renovation of the laboratory.
The EQUIP Hepatitis C Project will evaluate the cost and treatment outcomes of a simplified antiviral treatment strategy for HCV among HCV mono-infected and HIV/HCV co-infected individuals, with a focus on key populations in Yangon and Mandalay. In partnership with the Department of Medical Research, the National Hepatitis Control Program, Liver Foundation (Myanmar) and Right to Care, CPI is working to scale up access to concurrent HIV/HCV testing, direct-acting anti-HCV agents (DAAs) based HCV treatment, and universal coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for general and key populations. The goal of the project is to improve access to HCV treatment and to enhance ART initiation and adherence in HIV/HCV co-infected persons.
"As individual organizations and ministries, we cannot end epidemics in isolation; we will only be successful if we embrace partnerships with governments, community leaders, health care organizations, human rights, and key population representatives and networks. This endeavor is a true partnership as we developed and wrote this project as a team working collaboratively with physicians and laboratory experts from four continents."
Dr. Thembisile Lynette Xulu, Chief of Party EQUIP
 Sero-prevalence of Hepatitis B and C Viral Infections in Myanmar: National and Regional Survey in 2015, Myanmar Health Sciences Research Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3, 2017 (http://www.myanmarhsrj.com/file/display_fulltext.php?articleid=Reg-000855&issue=3&vol=29)
 World Health Organization. ATLAS on substance Use (2010): resources for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2010.
 Presentation by Dr. Than Tun Aung, Deputy Director General (Disaster/ Epidemiology), National Hepatitis Control Program. Central Epidemiology Unit Department of Public Health, June 2017.