|CARE’s “HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction Project”, a candle in the dark|
17 June 2011 - CARE Myanmar started the “HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction Project” in Sagaing, Mandalay and Shan in 2003, and now supported with the help of Three Diseases Fund. The project’s key activities include harm reduction interventions to drug users, their sexual partners and families. This also allows access to quality treatment, care and support services, while conducting awareness raising programmes with the police and community.
CARE staff raises HIV/AIDS awareness in Kalay ©Care
Drug users, for a long time have been readily discriminated against and treated improperly in Myanmar society. People assume that if a person uses drugs, he won’t care about doing any bad deeds and will willingly steal, rape or even kill. Therefore, people stay away from drug users and never associate with them. That is why CARE targets its harm reduction project on marginalised groups like drug users and creates awareness within the community and family members to help them understand and treat them as they would any other.
“If we compare the community’s attitude to drug users 20 years ago, so much has changed and improved but the drug users are not still accepted and treated with respect,” said by a senior health programme staff of CARE Myanmar. The senior programme staff continued saying, the condition of drug users in Kalay and Tamu townships, Sagaing region used to be very bad. As the towns are very small, drug users dare not go to health facilities for any help, being concerned that they’ll be ill-treated if their neighbours know of their status. Things have improved a lot now peer educators connect between the drug users and health projects.
“It’s not time to talk about awareness raising among drug users. They understand as much as we do. They’ll even teach you what to do and what not. They sometimes joke ‘just try once and you’ll know why we can’t stop’. So, harm reduction projects need to help in the long-term, not only 3 or 5 years”, he says.
A beneficiary talks about Care and himself
Ko Win Aung (not his real name), living in Lashio started inhaling drugs in 1992 together with his friends. They would not hesitate even to steal from others’ to raise money for their habits. Aung said he tried to stop taking drugs many times without success. He switched to injecting drugs in 1994. A year later, he got a chance to attend the drug treatment centre but he was so addicted he couldn’t stay off them.
In November 2005, he got in touch with CARE’s Drop in Centre (DIC) and with the encouragement of CARE’s peer educators joined a discussion group at the DIC with other drug users. “I have now realised the risk of drug use and I am inspired to rebuild my life again. I commenced Methadone Maintenance Therapy with the help of CARE staff in 2007 and stopped using drugs after 2 years” Ko Win Aung recalled.
While restoring his life and dignity, Aung was eager to support his fellow drug users. Therefore, he attended Peer Educator training (ToT) organised by CARE Lashio in 2009. He became a member of White Brothers Self Help Group (SHG) in 2009 and has been actively participating in SHG activities such as home-based care, counselling and health education session ever since.
What : CARE Myanmar‘s “HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction Project”
Where: 5 townships in Sagaing and Mandalay Regions and 1 township in Shan State
When : May 2007 – December 2011