Yesterday I attended an event held by our local partner Healthy Living Helping Society to mark World AIDS Day 2015 which fell on December 1. I was invited to deliver a small speech about the work that HLHS had been doing to alleviate the burden of HIV/AIDS in Myanmar.
I had no idea what to expect of the event as I travelled to the community hall in North Yangon, information from Dr. Myint was sparse.
What greeted me, blew me away.
Hundreds of people were milling about the hall in anticipation for the coming show which I had now learnt was going to be a singing and dancing extravaganza with a small trivia competition thrown in.
Doctor Myint somehow found me in the crowd and promptly whisked me to a television crew from MRTV 4 - the local youth channel to speak about HLHS and tackling HIV/AIDS in Myanmar.
Christian rock music loudly pumped around the hall as the audience made their way to the seats.
As representatives from our funding partner Community Partners International and INGO Marie Stoppes International addressed the crowd, nerves for my own speech grew.
I was last to speak and following some small technical issues I delivered my speech (attached below) to the growing crowd who I knew were itching for some singing and dancing.
HLHS delivered and immediately after I got off stage - famous Myanmar pop star Aw Ra Tha jumped on. The crowd were enrapt and started singing along to his cheery beats.
Following his performance he gave an impassioned call for LGBT rights in Myanmar and urged those gathered in the hall to practice safe-sex at all times.
Energy levels in the hall remained electric for the dance performers and a HIV/AIDS trivia competition among high schoolers that followed.
The event filled me with admiration for the work of HLHS - the engagement of local media and support of such a huge crowd made me optimistic that HIV/AIDS was a challenge that Myanmar could overcome.
The Angus McDonald Trust remains committed to supporting Healthy Living Helping Society reduce the burden of HIV/AIDS in Myanmar into the future.
To read more information about the fantastic work they are doing, click here.
A copy of my speech:
Thank you for having me speak at this amazing event to mark World AIDS day 2015.
For the past year The Angus McDonald Trust has partnered with Community Partners International to support the amazing team at Healthy Living Helping Society led by Dr Myint Maw. This organisation and many others around the country are doing amazing work to combat HIV/AIDS.
This virus remains one of the greatest public health challenges in the world. Since the 1980s more than 36 million people have died, and an estimated 35 million people are currently living with HIV. Within Myanmar these statistics are no less sobering - 210,000 people currently have the virus and 10,000 people die each year.
Though global infection rates have fallen by 36 per cent, more needs and can be done in countries like Myanmar to reduce this terrible burden.
I believe that HLHS is making incredible progress in each of the three key themes of World AIDS day:
1. to reduce new infections of HIV.
2. to reduce stigma and discrimination.
3. to reduce the HIV death rate.
Dr Myint Maw and his team work with hundreds of people living with the virus in Yangon and across Myanmar.
Through an extensive home-based care network, the outreach team led by Moe Oo Ma Tun tests new patients for infection, gives counselling to assist sufferers in leading a normal life and administers life saving OID medication.
Outreach worker Aung Aung told me he works each weekend visiting nightclubs and beauty salons to offer tests in a safe environment.
I remember coming to visit the team during September - rainy season was in full swing - and I could hardly hear Dr Myint over the sound of the rain. Nevertheless, he translated as client Aye Aye Ma explained to me that though she had HIV, her children have not been afflicted - giving praise to the tireless work of HLHS, coming to her house each month, giving her counselling on how to protect her children and administering medication.
Finally, I couldn’t forget Ko Zaw and Ma Mya Aye who run a highly professional hair and make up courses in the the newly built vocational centre. This again is helping those affected by HIV to lead a normal life.
During my short time in Myanmar, my admiration for the amazing work that HLHS is doing has only increased. I am optimistic for the future - Myanmar is full of energy and I have no doubt that this challenge will be overcome.
Events such as these, with extensive media coverage, are helping to raise critical awareness for HIV - which is not easy in this country where stigma remains high and in the past the government has done little to give assistance.
Thank you again for having me here to speak and I look forward to working with HLHS into the future. Catherine sends her best - she wishes she could be here to see you all!