HIV in Myanmar: “I am not useless”
By Mette Hartmeyer and Sidney Traynha
YANGON, Myanmar, February 23, 2011—In a country where the challenges for the poor can seem unfathomably complex, one of the brightest spots can be found in the vision of an unlikely leader: Naw Shé Wah. As a widow and single mother in Myanmar, she beat the odds of her circumstances and now works to improve the lives of women living with HIV and AIDS.
“The virus came to me and I cannot run away. We have to face it,” exclaims Naw Shé Wah with a certainty about her mission and message in life. “Most people think that positive people are useless persons. As for me, I do not believe that I am useless. I try as much as I can to support other positive people.”
After her husband passed away, her husband’s parents immediately blamed her. “I lost all of my property. I lost my job. And I had to look after both of my children,” she shares. It was at that time that she decided to commit herself to working with women “until the end of my life.”
Naw Shé Wah works as a project officer with the Myanmar Positive Group, an informal network of self-help support groups for people living with HIV. The network, supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), brings together close to 80 support groups with 1,600 participants in 77 townships across the country. The overall project is managed through a partnership with Church World Service Asia Pacific.
In Myanmar, there are close to 240,000 people living with HIV, according to 2009 estimates by UNAIDS, a joint United Nations program on HIV and AIDS. In addition, some 18,000 people die each year from a lack of treatment.
“The last sixteen or seventeen years, I had to face a lot of problems alone,” says Naw Shé Wah. “But when I work in the HIV community, there are a lot of people with the same challenges as me.”
Over the past several months of the project, MPG has worked to strengthen its network of self-help groups in order to raise further awareness on prevention, reduce stigma and improve people’s treatment literacy.
Through local workshops, MPG has sought to increase knowledge for people living with HIV to better manage their health status and to decrease the gaps between people and medical service providers. In addition, Naw Shé Wah also worked to assess and analyze the needs of women through the workshops, finding that the most common challenge is a lack of income.
“Because most of the women have a lack of knowledge, they are dependent on their husbands. After their husband passes away, they have to handle a lot of problems,” she notes. “There are a lot of burdens for me – the same with them.”
One of the areas that Naw Shé Wah hopes that MPG can expand is extending micro-loans to women so that they can start their own businesses and begin to earn an income to support their families.
Today, Naw Shé Wah says she is happy and honored to have the opportunity to support other women. It is a burden and responsibility that weighs on her regularly. She says, “We have to stay alive. We have to do it for us and for our community.”
How You Can Help
You can support projects like these that create education, prevention, treatment and awareness through the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345. Through 20/20: Visioning an AIDS-Free World, a gift of $20 a month until 2020 can stop the transmission of HIV from mother to child, teach young adults about HIV prevention, and feed an HIV-positive person, that enables them to take their medicine and lead a productive life.