Image: Client registration at the harm reduction drop in centre, Mandalay
More than five years after establishing a range of innovative and much needed services for marginalised populations in Myanmar, Burnet Institute is handing over control to local partners, hopeful of a bright future.
Focused on harm reduction for injecting drug users, and support and advice for transgender women and men who have sex with men (MSM), the services have been highly successful in helping clients develop into peer educators.
The MSM project has been running since 2011 in partnership with the Myanmar Business Coalition on Aid (MBCA) for people reluctant to attend government clinics for sexual health information, or HIV tests and treatment.
“Men who have sex with men and transgender women often won’t go to a government clinic because they feel they will experience stigma or discrimination,” Burnet Deputy Program Director, Disease Elimination, Chad Hughes said.
“Having a peer-based service allows young men and transgender women to be open and talk in a comfortable setting about everything that’s going on with them.
“And for the peers, employment provides a purpose, which builds up their mental health and well-being and the chance to give something back.
Image: Clients watch a video at the harm reduction drop in centre, Mandalay
“It’s really made a big difference to many people’s lives, not just in terms of their own health, but their confidence and being open about their sexuality or gender identity.”
Mr Hughes said the harm reduction program has been especially popular in Yangon and Mandalay where the local drop in centres provided a safe haven for clients to talk to a counselor about their drug use or be tested for HIV or an STI.
“The peers understand the clients’ situation because they have all been injecting drug users at some point in time, so they relate very well and support clients to get on the methadone program and become stable with their drug use,” Mr Hughes said.
“The reason we got into direct service delivery is because there was a need that was unmet and these populations weren’t being served.
“We stepped up to fill the gap, but now that there are partners available we can focus on our primary role to embed innovation and research in their programs.”
Burnet researchers have compiled a catalogue of testimonials from peer educators about their experiences in the MSM and harm reduction services.
Read testimonials from ‘BE’ and ‘IKF’ here, and find out more about Burnet’s other important projects in Myanmar.