On Sunday, February 25, 2018, USAID announced the launch of a two-year, $10 million HIV/AIDS project at a ceremony organized by Community Partners International (CPI) in Yangon, Myanmar. The USAID HIV/AIDS Flagship (UHF) Project aims to scale-up HIV prevention, testing and treatment services utilizing NGO and private sector health providers for people living with HIV and key populations: people who inject drugs (PWID), female sex workers (FSW), and men who have sex with men (MSM) including transgender people (TG).
The project is funded by USAID under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through UNAIDS Myanmar; CPI is providing project implementation support and management to five partner organizations. The UHF Project is developing and implementing innovative and cost-efficient systems that will increase linkage and access to HIV/AIDS care in five high-burden areas: Kachin State, Shan State, Sagaing Region, Yangon Region and Mandalay Region. The project aligns with the goals of the National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS 2016-2020 developed by the Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS).
His Excellency Dr. Myint Htwe, Union Minister of the MoHS, opened the ceremony with a speech that emphasized close cooperation and coordination between the MoHS and UHF stakeholders, and the importance of health literacy on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment among community members. H.E. Dr. Myint Htwe also expressed his confidence in the UHF Project, and thanked the U.S. government and USAID while acknowledging UNAIDS’ role as the prime organization.
The speech was followed by opening remarks from the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Scot Marciel, who reaffirmed the U.S. government’s support for the Government of Myanmar’s commitment to fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Citing the link between PWID and high HIV prevalence rates in Myanmar, the U.S. Ambassador also emphasized the need to address the ongoing narcotics problem in the country. The U.S. Ambassador discussed efforts to develop a more comprehensive approach to narcotics control, which, on the public health level, includes strengthening harm reduction and focusing on PWID for HIV/AIDS testing and treatment.
According to the National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS 2016-2020, PWIDs experience the highest proportion of new infections, with estimated national HIV prevalence rate of 28.5%, compared to 14.6% and 11.6% for FSW and MSM including TG. In regions such as Kachin State, where injecting drug use is prevalent, PWIDs are at higher risk for HIV/AIDS; in Bamaw and Waingmaw, HIV prevalence rates of 45% and 47% have been recorded among PWID populations.
After welcoming speeches delivered by UNAIDS Country Director Mr. Oussama Tawil and CPI Executive Director Dr. Si Thura, as well as a video on the UHF Project, guests were invited to a gallery showing of UHF Project activities by implementing partners—Asian Harm Reduction Network (AHRN), Medical Action Myanmar (MAM), Médecins du Monde (MDM), Metta Development Foundation (Metta) and Population Services International (PSI)—as well as the Equip: Hepatitis C Project, also funded by USAID under PEPFAR. The event concluded with briefs on UHF and Equip: Hepatitis C projects delivered by Robert Kelly, HIV/AIDS Key Populations Technical Advisor of USAID, and Dr. Thembisile Lynette Xulu, Chief of Party EQUIP.
The UHF Project supports national efforts to achieve an AIDS-free Myanmar. The overarching goals of the project are to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission among key populations, and to contribute towards improved coverage and quality of testing and ART services by at least 25% in two years. The Equip: Hepatitis C Project, also funded by USAID under PEPFAR, aims to improve access to HCV treatment and to enhance ART initiation and adherence in HIV/HCV co-infected persons in Myanmar. CPI is working with three implementing partners—the MoHS National Hepatitis Control Program, the Liver Foundation (Myanmar) and Right to Care—to conduct the pilot project.