Professor Robert Power (rear) with staff at Burnet's Sagaing Drop-in Centre
The evidence-based interventions of Burnet’s Drop-in Centres in Myanmar aimed at reducing the harmful consequences of a drug injector’s lifestyle have been resoundingly endorsed by Burnet’s Head, Centre for International Health, Professor Robert Power.
Professor Power recently toured all five centres in Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing and Pyin Oo Lwin, and was impressed by the programs based on longstanding international experience in harm reduction tailored for local needs.
“What we’re asking our staff in Myanmar to do is to look at all the evidence over the previous 30 years in harm reduction and to distil that down into these programs,” Professor Power said.
“Good programs in harm reduction are programs that do have a Drop-in Centre focus, but there’s a lot of outreach activity to contact the most marginalised individuals who we then engage in the service.
“It’s a very exciting venture because it’s about Burnet proactively engaging as an international NGO (non-government organisation).”
Professor Power said the Drop-in Centres (DIC) exemplify the Burnet commitment to ‘medical research, practical action’.
The services include needle and syringe and condom provision, HIV testing and counselling, health promotion activities including overdose prevention, and referral for services such as drug substitution therapy, TB, antiretroviral therapy for HIV, and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
The DICs also provide harm reduction outreach for other marginalised populations such as female sex workers and their clients, as well as the female partners of men who inject drugs.
“There’s always a shift in some of the drug patterns so our outreach workers and drug educators are always aware of the changes so we’re constantly readjusting our programs in terms of the need,” Professor Power said.
“We know for example that there’s problems around amphetamines in the region and issues around alcohol and harm reduction, so they are things we will have to address.
“We’re trying to ensure that we’re responding not just to the current need but looking a bit into the future and the epidemiology in the region to see what’s likely to happen.”
Professor Power said Burnet is adopting a long-term perspective for the DICs, which are funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Three Millennium Development Goal Fund through to the end of 2016.
“Experience has shown us that you need to take strategic, practical steps to make a difference,” he said.
“If we want to maintain our unique position as the only medical research institute that’s also an accredited non Governmental organisation, these are the kinds of programs we’ve got to be supporting.”