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Myanmar Youth Stars (MYS) have reported cases across the country disruptions of general health services, especially with young key populations seeking HIV and SRHR services. To address these challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, MYS has been holding online peer education sessions to provide support for YKPs with information on HIV and referral services with the support from UNFPA Myanmar and Youth LEAD.

In Myanmar, it’s common to see young people refer to Facebook as a source for news; a platform where many young people look for information on HIV and news related to COVID-19. “During this homestay period, I spend more than 3-4 hours on Facebook daily. I use Facebook to get updates on information about COVID-19 and news on other health-related topics.” said a young person who uses drugs from MawlamyineAnother young person who identifies as MSM (men who have sex with men) also reflects on the impact of media consumption and usefulness of apps.”I normally use Facebook most of the time to see what my friends are up to and I like to watch Tik Tok videos. These are also platforms that allow me to join LGBT groups and other support groups to find information that would be useful for me during COVID-19.”

In April 2020, MYS began exploring the idea of holding online peer-led education sessions as a solution to tackle emerging concerns from the community. Utilising social media platforms to advance HIV related causes, MYS initiated a pilot test, a trial run on the online peer-led sessions to better understand the usefulness of the programme for young people. Similarly, the courses will be evaluated, to help form a guideline that can be utilised by peer educators in the future on ways to manage the contents of the virtual meeting best. The guideline will serve as a manual that can be quickly followed by peer educators before online sessions are held. Additionally, the guideline will instruct peer educators on ways to involve young people in the course; provide coaching with how discussions should be led and highlight types of information that should be conveyed.

Thus far, MYS has held nine online sessions, with a total of 27 YKPs tuning into the private sessions. The online meetings are conducted in private, in a group setting and typically among familiar faces. The online courses are also community/district-specific, which means YKPs have the opportunity to join the meetings from their area. The sessions have so far been conducted in Yangon, Myitkyina, Lashio and Mawlamyine.

Dr Min Thet Phyo San, Network and Programme Coordinator at MYS called attention to the impact of COVID-19 on key populations in accessing HIV services. “There is an evident shift in the priorities for organisations to supply food packages to those most affected by government restrictions. Currently, some organizations and government clinics do provide essential services (e.g. HIV treatment, methadone maintenance therapy, PMCT, etc) but most prevention services have halted. Therefore, this is a good opportunity for our organisation to provide online peer education to YKPs during the pandemic because we still don’t know when this will end. The sessions will ensure YKPs remain up to date with information and follow preventive measures for both COVID and HIV.”

MYS has highlighted an interactive approach as a best practice, with displaying of videos as an excellent approach to digital sexuality education. MYS also hopes that the online sessions will not only benefit YKPs looking to access information but will equip peer educators with the necessary skills on utilising social media platforms for advocacy. In a time where many civil society organisations and networks rely on communications and social media to convey critical information, it’s essential to look at how digital landscapes can efficiently be managed during times of crisis like COVID-19.

In the next steps, MYS will work with peer educators to evaluate the programme and identify best practices for the dissemination of information. MYS will work to ensure relevancy and efficiency of the sessions for YKPs in a time where many key populations may struggle with finding the information they need on HIV, SRHR or COVID-19.

In other news, MYS is working with UNIADS Myanmar on the dissemination of a national survey, replicated from the regional YKP COVID-19 survey to better understand the concerns of the community.

Edited by: Dr Min Thet Phyo San (Network Programme Coordinator, Myanmar Youth Star) and Eddy Rudram (Communications Officer, Youth LEAD)

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