World AIDS Day 2017, The Union’s HIV work in Myanmar

On World AIDS Day, 1 December 2017, The Union joins with campaigners around the world to raise awareness about HIV and the discrimination people living with the virus can face - we reflect on The Union’s HIV work in Myanmar, and the lives of the many courageous individuals involved.

Hein Htet San (pictured left), is leader of the new Young People Living with HIV Volunteer Network. He was diagnosed with HIV as a child. He receives anti-retroviral therapy (ART) through an Integrated HIV Care (IHC) clinic run collaboratively by The Union and Myanmar’s National AIDS Programme. When he struggled with the side effects of ART, volunteers at the IHC clinic counselled him and encouraged him to continue with his treatment.

“I now live a healthy life. I want to share that message with other young people living with HIV, to encourage then that HIV need not be isolating. I hope to help young people feel more comfortable with their status and to educate people to reduce transmission.”

Now 18, Hein Htet San leads the new specialist volunteer network to provide support for young people living with HIV. Alongside 20 peers, he has received training on the HIV virus, preventing transmission, ART and its side effects, and nutrition. Volunteers also receive training on counselling techniques.

“One day I’d like to become a professional counsellor. The IHC clinic and all the support I received there changed my life. Ultimately I hope for a cure. But until that day comes I will do what I can to help reduce HIV transmission in Myanmar, and to fight discrimination.”

The Union’s IHC Programme began in Mandalay, Myanmar in 2005. From small beginnings – treating 190 in year one – the IHC model has become a key component of Myanmar’s national HIV strategy. There are now 44,000 people enrolled in the programme, across five regions of the country.

IHC patients receive ART and medicines to treat opportunistic infection free of charge, at clinics that screen for TB, monitor CD4 count and HIV viral load, and provide expert counselling.

The IHC model was designed to invest in the infrastructure and expertise of Myanmar’s health system, with the National AIDS Programme and National TB Programme as key partners. At all levels the work involves collaboration between Union staff, the public sector and civil society.

Globally there were approximately 36.7 million people living with HIV at the end of 2016, according to World Health Organization data. 20.9 million were receiving anti-retroviral therapy in 2017.

Read more about our HIV work in Myanmar.

Photo credit: Jan Schmidt-Whitley