|HIV/AIDS awareness program at Yangon’s Inya Lake.
PUBLIC awareness of HIV/AIDS is gradually increasing in Myanmar but significant knowledge gaps still remain, said experts from some non-government organisations working on the fight against the disease.
The 2007 Asia epidemic update regional summary, published by UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation, showed that only 50 percent of Myanmar adults surveyed in 2005 could name at least three ways of HIV transmission.
While these figures are initially alarming, they are a healthy increase over the 40pc able to answer the same question in 2002.
Dr Htun Linn Oo, the program manager and coordinator of a local NGO – Myanmar Business Coalition on AIDS (MBCA) – said the public awareness on the prevention of HIV/AIDS has generally increased.
“We’ve found more people are using condoms to have safe sex and attendance figures for our HIV-knowledge-sharing talks are higher than before,” he said, before discussing one breakthrough the NGO has made.
“When we previously had information talks and seminars regarding HIV and how it’s passed on, we had to hold separate forums for men and women because most of the people were too shy. But now we’re able to hold these talks with both men and women in the same room,” he said.
Other concerns, he said, are the palpable knowledge gaps that have become apparent depending on a person’s education level and where they live.
“We’ve witnessed strong public awareness of HIV/AIDS in the regions where NGOs are able to conduct their knowledge sharing programs regularly but there are still lots of areas that don’t receive much attention,” he said.
He added that while most people now know how HIV is spread, in-depth knowledge of the disease and the problems associated with it are still lacking.
“There are some serious misconceptions relating to the prevention of HIV/ AIDS that we still need to make clear to many people.
“For example, some people think that using two condoms is a safer way of preventing the spread of HIV, which is simply not true,” he said, explaining that using two condoms at once actually increases the risk level. This, he added, is because the two condoms rub together and there is a much higher chance they will break.
Another knowledge gap, he said, surrounds the course of action a person who has contracted HIV should take, especially with regards to reducing the chances of transmitting that to another person.
An example of this is a pregnant mother passing the disease onto her baby, what Dr Htun Linn Oo said is known within the industry as “secondary prevention”.
He added that many people remain unwilling to change their behaviour patterns, including those related to recreational drug use and sex, even though they are fully aware that it could lead to infection.
Dr Sid Naing, the country director of Marie Stopes International, agreed that public knowledge on HIV’s spread and how it could be prevented was still lacking.
“There’re some misconcep-tions and rumours out there – including myths that HIV can be spread through mosquito bites – in some areas,” he said, adding that most people have weaknesses in dealing with risk assessment.
“Most people mistakenly believe that they can’t or won’t get infected. We’re trying to make people understand that it can happen to anyone, especially if they indulge in high risk behaviour,” he said.
He added that greater public awareness concerning pre-marriage blood tests should be a priority.