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Ear to the Ground: Community Action Planning in Myanmar

Today was a particularly exciting day here in Pindaya Township in Southern Shan, Myanmar. Pindaya Township had been selected by the Ministry of Health and Sports as one of the six pilot townships to demonstrate effective adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) programming for nationwide adaptation and scale-up. This effort contributes significantly to meeting Myanmar’s FP2020 commitment, made in 2013 and updated in 2017.  Pathfinder International and its local NGO partner, Myanmar Partners in Policy and Research, have been working in Pindaya as the community partner for this effort, with support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. We organized this action planning workshop to provide a facilitated venue for Pindaya community members to create specific, time-bound  implementation plans to pilot AYSRH activities. Participants included government officials from various sectors, local politicians, young people, teachers, health workers, private providers including pharmacists, parents and other informal community leaders.

The Chairman of the Leading Body of Danu Self-Administered Zone Mr. Arkar Linn, representing the local Danu people, demonstrated his strong vote of support through his opening speech that emphasized the critical importance of AYSRH to young people’s overall well-being, future education and success. He touched upon the consequences of early marriage and unsafe illegal abortions among unmarried youth as increasing societal concerns, and the importance of sexuality education.

Mr. Arkar Linn addressing participants.

The Township Medical Officer, Dr. Moh Moh Kyi, provided important data from Pindaya to underscore the importance of providing accurate sexual and reproductive health information through a variety of channels, but especially through health facilities and midwives whose information is most trusted by young people. Over 70% of community members she talked to supported providing youth with more information about sexual and reproductive health.

We discussed several categories of activities based on global effective practices, including general awareness-raising on AYSRH to community members; training of AYSRH trainers; AYSRH outreach teams; youth-friendly pharmacies and other private providers; in-school comprehensive sexuality education; and workplace-based education for out-of-school youths. The participants divided themselves into groups and discussed who will be in charge of conducting dissemination activities, how many times, by when, and how we would measure success.

During the discussions, one of the midwives said that a young girl aged 15 in her coverage area got pregnant, but her school teacher was not aware. The midwife received the information from the community people who were talking about this girl. She felt that there needs to be greater awareness-raising in schools so that teachers realize there is sexual activity happening among their students, and offer support to those who may need help. Not only is it vital for various groups to support adolescent and youth needs from within their professional circles, but it is also important to find cross-sectoral linkages to serve youth needs holistically.

Parents and teachers discuss the action plan for youth-friendly services.

Myanmar signed onto FP2020 in November 2013, and rapid changes occurred in the country since then. Pathfinder’s work in Myanmar began in 2012—we organized the first Family Planning Best Practices Conference in 2014, followed by a series of state-level workshops that focused on bottleneck analyses and action planning. In Shan State, we also implemented village-level community awareness-raising sessions on AYSRH and youth health education activities combined with cultural entertainment or sports events; conducted practice sessions for auxiliary midwives and community health workers on counseling skills; organized contraceptive implant training, and conducted a study in Southern Shan on youth sexual and reproductive health behaviors. In Kayin State, based on the barrier analysis we did with all townships, we brought together the Department of Health and ethnic health organizations to have quarterly meetings to improve coordination on service delivery and contraceptive supplies. We supported the Ministry’s efforts to produce new educational materials, draft effective policies and guidelines, and translate and disseminate informative global documents.

In this short span of 7 years Pathfinder has been in Myanmar, family planning went from being a sensitive subject, to being a right for all individuals to access, and also a critical component of the essential health services package under the government’s Universal Health Coverage scheme that has begun rolling out towards 2030.

The young people in Pindaya speak up with their hopes for the future.

We have been so fortunate to be able to work alongside the Ministry of Health and Sports to accelerate Myanmar’s continued efforts towards the goals of reducing unmet need for voluntary, rights-based family planning. I can say with confidence that if the current momentum is maintained and domestic financing is secured, Myanmar has an excellent chance of far exceeding its FP2020 commitments in the next decade. Today’s township action planning in Pindaya township was another important building block towards ensuring universal access to SRH services especially for adolescents and youth in the country.