Landmark study into adolescent health in Myanmar

Burnet Institute

25 January, 2018

Burnet Institute has broken new ground with the completion of a comprehensive study into adolescent sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in Myanmar.

One in five people in Myanmar is an adolescent aged 10-19 years, yet there has been limited research into their SRH needs.

The formative research, conducted in partnership with WaterAid and the Myanmar Ministries of Health and Education, addressed this important research gap by examining adolescents’ SRH knowledge, access to SRH education in schools, and the impacts of menstrual hygiene management on adolescent girls in school settings.

The study was conducted in 16 Monastic schools and communities in Magwey region with over 1500 students aged 11-18 years participating in the research, in addition to teachers, mothers and health workers.

Burnet Program Director, Maternal and Child Health, Dr Elissa Kennedy said the research shows that adolescent girls and boys in Monastic schools lack essential knowledge and information on puberty, menstruation, reproduction and contraception.

“Comprehensive sexuality education, or Life Skills Education, is the cornerstone of improving adolescent SRH, however this study identified that adolescents in Myanmar have very limited access to quality LSE in schools.

“As a result, most adolescents don’t have the comprehensive knowledge they need to make safe decisions about their SRH, and myths and misconceptions are common.”

“In addition, the study revealed that many adolescent girls are not prepared for menstruation, and face considerable challenges managing menstruation safely and with dignity at school.

“As a result, many girls report unhygienic practices and reduced participation in school activities, and one in eight girls misses at least one day of school during menstruation.”

Recommendations include improved access to accurate SRH education in schools (including information about puberty and menstruation), strengthening water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools to support girls during menstruation and providing menstrual hygiene materials, and engaging with parents and communities to improve support for adolescent SRH.

“Crucially, this study identified key challenges that impact on the delivery of LSE, including lack of teacher training and confidence, insufficient teaching resources, and negative community attitudes,” Dr Kennedy said.

Image: Co-author Dr Zay Yar Swe presents the report recommendations

“The findings have been used to develop a new five-year project in Myanmar to support teachers and improve the quality of LSE in Monastic schools, and have also been presented to the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and UN agencies to support national efforts to strengthen LSE.”

At a special symposium during the 46th Myanmar Health Research Congress in Yangon, Professor Margaret Hellard presented an overview of Burnet’s work in adolescent health.

Burnet’s Co-head of Adolescent Health, Dr Peter Azzopardi and Dr Alisa Pedrana outlined examples of Burnet’s expertise across digital platforms, adolescent friendly health services, and burden of disease modelling, evaluation and implementation science.

“What we were able to highlight was the broad work that Burnet has been engaged in, but also how we can support the government and international agencies working in Myanmar to continue to improve the health and well being of their adolescents,” Dr Azzopardi said.

“Myanmar has a very large population of adolescents and their health and well being is central to safeguarding the prosperity and development of Myanmar into the future.”

Find out more about Burnet’s work in Myanmar and the field of adolescent health.