This year, the HIV/TB Agency, Information, and Services (AIS) Activity harnessed the power of social media to launch a series of online initiatives in support of World AIDS Day. Spanning five weeks from mid-November to mid-December, these activities were designed to amplify the World AIDS Day theme of “Let Communities Lead”. The highlight of this year's events was the World AIDS Day photo contest.
Through the World AIDS Day online photo contest, the AIS Activity encouraged active community participation and documented their key role in the HIV/AIDS response. Stakeholders, including AIS Activity partner organizations, participated by sharing photo contest news on their Facebook pages and displaying posters around client sites.
A distinguished panel of judges reviewed the submitted photographs. Panel member and international award-winning photographer, Aung Chan Thar, expressed his excitement at being involved in judging competition entries and highlighted the significant impact photography can have in raising awareness and uplifting communities. "Photography has always been a useful medium for educating people, so organizing photo contests that promote awareness is truly commendable,” he said. “As a photographer, it's an honor to know that my work can make an impact on our society. I'm genuinely excited to be part of this photography competition and feel privileged to serve as one of the judges.”
The contest welcomed submissions from photographers with different levels of experience and skill and received entries from all over Myanmar. The diversity of submissions added depth to the documentation of community support in the HIV/AIDS response.
The first prize was awarded to Aye Lwin Oo for his striking photograph containing four panels of posed silhouettes framing key messages around HIV/AIDS. Using a simple technique of a fabric screen and bright light, the panels of Aye Lwin Oo’s photograph include the words “equity”, “respect”, “inclusion” and “hope” as well as references to safer sex and drug use. "I decided to participate in this contest because I recognize the pivotal role of community leadership in addressing HIV/AIDS and the imperative to empower community leaders,” he said.
Through his lens, Aye Lwin Oo advocates for community involvement in ending HIV/AIDS and stigma and promoting regular blood tests for early HIV detection. “It is essential for all community members to understand that HIV/AIDS should not be stigmatized and that those living with the virus should not face exclusion,” he emphasized. “Drawing on my experiences as a photographer and videographer, I have witnessed the positive impact of HIV treatment and the transformative journeys of individuals living with HIV. I see it as my human duty to be actively engaged in such initiatives."
The second prize was awarded to Thein Htike for his image of cupped hands holding the red ribbon symbolizing World AIDS Day around the word “AIDS”. “The message of my photo is that we must collaborate in our response to HIV/AIDS,” revealed Thein Htike. “The hands symbolize the collective support for those living with HIV/AIDS,” he continued.
The third prize was awarded to Zwel Thu for his photograph of hands surrounding a man wearing the red ribbon. “The message of my photograph is that the whole community including family and friends is crucial in the response to HIV.AIDS,” Zwel Thu explained. “Through the power of collaboration, we can raise awareness and provide assistance, care and encouragement.”
This year's World AIDS Day campaign is a prime example of the power of community-led activism and advocacy for change. The use of online platforms allows the campaign to reach a larger audience, fostering a sense of global community and solidarity in the HIV/AIDS response. Working together is essential to successfully respond to HIV/AIDS, and World AIDS Day is a good reminder of this. Activating communities is a huge step toward bringing an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The AIS Activity’s campaign activities on World AIDS Day are not merely symbolic; AIS actively promotes awareness of HIV/AIDS and draws attention to the efforts of communities in preventing and treating HIV, and ultimately working towards a world without AIDS. The AIS Activity innovates to scale up HIV services and reach 95-95-95 prevention, testing, and treatment objectives. Despite the challenges created by Myanmar’s political instability, the AIS Activity continues to provide lifesaving HIV- and TB services for key populations at higher risk of HIV infection, with the generous support of PEPFAR and the Global Accelerator to End TB through USAID.