On December 1, communities and countries around the world marked World AIDS Day. This annual observance provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and draws attention to the lifesaving work of HIV health specialists and community workers.
In Myanmar, the USAID HIV/AIDS Flagship (UHF) Project conducted activities under this year’s theme of “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility” to raise awareness of the HIV epidemic in Myanmar and highlight the efforts of health providers and communities in preventing and treating HIV.
World AIDS day provided an opportunity to recognize the dedication of HIV service providers in Myanmar during the pandemic. The UHF project conducted an online HIV awareness campaign and organized COVID-19 secure in-person gatherings to discuss COVID-19 prevention and harm reduction. UHF Project staff and partners also distributed cloth face masks to key populations.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to unfold in Myanmar, the UHF Project has adapted to sustain lifesaving HIV services for key populations at higher risk of HIV infection, including people who inject drugs (PWID), female sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people. The UHF Project’s 528Love Facebook page, which offers information and support to people who inject drugs and their loved ones, has continued to provide regular updates on COVID-19 prevention and advice for key populations on accessing HV prevention and treatment services throughout the pandemic.
Online HIV awareness campaign
Lockdown and restrictions on gatherings mean more time at home browsing the internet and social media. Under the NAP leadership, UHF partners released a series of HIV awareness materials: infographics, educational videos, a music video, clips and more. Collectively, the UHF partners’ Facebook pages have a following of nearly 200,000 Facebook users, mostly composed of key populations. In addition to the content cross-shared with the NAP, UHF partners released COVID-19 awareness and HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) information videos, further raising awareness about this HIV combination prevention method newly available in Myanmar.
Harm reduction and COVID-19 awareness
Harm reduction is an essential component of the UHF Project’s program in Kachin State, northern Shan State and Sagaing Region. People who inject drugs (PWID) are among the key populations at higher risk of HIV due to needle sharing. UHF Project implementing partner Metta organized HIV education meetings following COVID-19 safety guidelines with the Local AIDS Committee, local communities, drug users and administrative officials in Nant Mon Township, Kachin State, reaching more than 600 people in the area. Population Services International conducted COVID-19 awareness with clients in Yangon and Mandalay. The Asian Harm Reduction Network conducted similar activities with clients in Waingmaw and Bhamo Townships in Kachin State and Naung Po Aung village, Homalin Township, Sagaing Region.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person gatherings are restricted in Myanmar, leading the UHF Project to adapt. UHF Project implementing partners, in coordination with the National AIDS Program (NAP), distributed masks decorated with the red ribbon to raise awareness about HIV. Population Services International (PSI) distributed the masks at their Mandalay and Yangon TOP centers. Medical Action Myanmar (MAM) also participated in the NAP mask campaign, distributing 500 masks in Yangon and 500 more in Kachin State. Metta staff distributed over 600 red ribbons in Nawngmun and Mohnyin Townships of Kachin State and provided HIV health education at the same time.
The USAID HIV/AIDS Flagship (UHF) Project is funded by USAID under PEPFAR through UNAIDS Myanmar. Community Partners International (CPI) is providing project implementation support and management to four partner organizations: Asian Harm Reduction Network (AHRN), Medical Action Myanmar (MAM), Metta Development Foundation (Metta) and Population Services International (PSI).