Sharing my experiences in Myanmar with the UK Parliament
03 December 2015
I am Chan Aye San, 21, and I work as an outreach worker for an organisation called Radanar Ayar in Myanmar, and I am a youth advocate at Alliance Myanmar.
I am also a member of the Myanmar Youth Stars, a network of young people most affected by HIV (key populations), and a focal point for the Athena Network as part of the Link Up programme. It all keeps me very busy!
This last week I’ve been in the UK to take part in a panel discussion with UK Parliament members for World AIDS Day. I am passionate about advocating for the meaningful participation of young key populations and also to reduce stigma and discrimination, so it is such a great honour for me to be invited to participate to represent young key populations in Myanmar.
The whole trip is very exciting experience for me. I was quite nervous about getting visa and prayed really hard for it. It is such a big dream for me. Together with my mentor, Yadanar, we prepared for the panel discussion on the plane.
I was amazed to find out that people can freely come in and explore the Parliament which is just the opposite of our country. I wish for it to be the same in our country in the future.
Photo opp – and spending World AIDS Day in Parliament
The very first morning session was to take photos with the Members of Parliament for STOP AIDS campaign to reduce stigma and discrimination as well as increase access to health services and treatment. I felt so privileged to represent Myanmar’s young key populations.
The afternoon session was a World AIDS Day Parliamentary panel with Baroness Verma and Diane Abbott with the theme of Putting the last first: Reach the most marginalised to end AIDS. The objective of the panel is to acknowledge the urgent need to reach those ‘often left behind’: women and girls, young people and key populations (MSM, sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender people). We prepared a lot so I would feel confident, but still I was so nervous.
Missing medicines – in Myanmar
I shared about my personal story, which shows the barriers in accessing treatment for many young key populations. I was 14 when my parents disclosed my HIV positive status to me, they were very worried about the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV. At the time, I lived outside of Yangon in a rural area where HIV medicines are not free. My family could not afford the cost of medicine so I had to leave my family at age 16 and move to Yangon and live at a HIV centre in order to access ARVs. So I know first-hand that STOP AIDS's theme of ‘missing medicines’ is a very real issue in rural Myanmar.
How to overcome stigma and barriers - together
A common barrier for all young key populations is stigma and discrimination shown by health care providers as well as from the community members. In order to end this we need to empower young key populations and also raise awareness in the community and inform the health care providers.
At the Parliamentary panel I was asked how we can reduce stigma and discrimination towards young people most affected by HIV. I answered: Young key populations alone cannot fight stigma and discrimination, they need to work together with the general youth and also with youth Parliament members.
No guardian, no treatment
They were surprised to hear of another barrier – which is how young people require a guardian and repeated appointments to get treatment but some of the young key population do not have their guardians anymore.
I also talked about the importance of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria in getting treatment. Through the projects funded by Global Fund where the providers and staffs are also from key populations, the number of young key populations and people living with HIV who access treatment has become higher since there is no stigma and discrimination, they are welcomed warmly without judgement and also receive counselling.
Meeting with Lord McConnell again was a wonderful experience. I shared my experiences of working with and for young key populations, our challenges and how we overcome them.
Before coming to UK, I was not that confident in myself. After talking at the Parliament and also meeting with amazing people and talking about my experiences, I have realised that I have capacities, abilities and the work I am doing is important to make a change for the lives of the young key populations. Due to this amazing experience, I am now proud and confident in myself.