Myanmar Positive Group (MPG) was first established in March 2005 as the GIPA Initiative Group by 9 People Living with HIV (PLHIV), with support from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and UNDP. MPG’s vision is to create a better life for HIV positive people by networking with all Self Help Groups in Myanmar and, ultimately, the establishment of a formal national network. Their mission is to represent PLHIV and their families for the sustainable and meaningful involvement of PLHIV in prevention, care and support and the overall HIV/AIDS response in Myanmar. MPG is a network coordinated and in collaboration with key stakeholders and civil society organizations. Their main objectives are: (1) To represent PLHIV in Myanmar at all levels; (2) to build the skills of PLHIV to increase their access and involvement in decisions affecting them; (3) to reduce stigma and discrimination against PLHIV; (4) to promote networking among PLHIV and Self Help Groups; and (5) to advocate for PLHIV’s right to access treatment and services.
During MPG’s initial years, the PLHIV community in Myanmar faced a lot of stigma and discrimination in society as HIV was considered a major epidemic. At the time, the mortality rate of PLHIV was extremely high and their life expectancy very low. In 2005 treatment availability and access to ART (antiretroviral therapy) and National AIDS programs were limited and there were only 47 Self Help Groups across Myanmar. Now, there are 177 Self Help Groups of PLHIV who are members of MPG. MPG has become a strong national network that represents the needs of PLHIV not only across Myanmar but also within the Asia Pacific region through representation with the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (APN+) and globally through the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.
To combat this discrimination, MPG has been building up the skills of the PLHIV community by capacity building on treatment knowledge, community mobilization and human rights. In 2014, the estimated number of PLHIV in Myanmar was over 200,000; 85,000 adults and children were receiving ART. Discrimination in health care settings against PLHIV is still highly prevalent in Myanmar and health care providers often reject giving proper surgical and dental treatment to PLHIV, which has a great impact on PLHIV especially those who have spent considerable time and money travelling from remote locations to receive the treatment they need. There have been cases where people living with HIV were forcibly sterilized, kept in separate places in hospitals, were spoken to badly by health care providers, and where their HIV status was publicly revealed without their consent. In addition, PLHIV can be charged double for surgical operations including in prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) cases. To combat this discrimination, MPG has been building up the skills of the PLHIV community by capacity building on treatment knowledge, community mobilization and human rights.
As a result of this Asia Catalyst training program, MPG is collaborating with AMA, a Myanmar sex workers community-based organization (CBO), with whom they will jointly conduct advocacy activities.
MPG is one of eight CBOs from four Asian countries (Cambodia, China, Vietnam and Myanmar) currently participating in Asia Catalyst’s Regional Rights Training Program. The Regional Rights Training Program, which runs till March 2016, is building the capacity of CBOs to identify priority issues of discrimination against PLHIV in healthcare settings in their respective countries; conduct documentation to build an evidence base of rights violations; and carry out comprehensive human-rights based advocacy on chosen priority issues. As a result of this Asia Catalyst training program, MPG is collaborating with AMA, a Myanmar sex workers community-based organization (CBO), with whom they will jointly conduct advocacy activities.
MPG’s Senior Program Officer Mr. Min San Tun told AC “Before democracy came to Myanmar, we were practicing democratic values in our CBO. Now, our community members have a better understanding than the general public of the electoral process, public interest, and the balance of power. That is because of our CBO. Still, HIV is a double stigma here: members of the general public fear it in their daily lives; access to treatment is very difficult. So, we are working towards 100% access to treatment. Asia Catalyst’s program has given us a much-needed strategy and clear priorities, as well as a better understanding of how to utilize our democratic skills and democratic processes to make change nationwide.”