Good on Ma Thazin. It takes courage to work in HIV prevention.
Sharing razor blades does not transmit HIV.
Of monks and men
14 December 2017
A GROUP of 45 novice monks and 10th grade students sit on the floor of the classroom, their focus fixed to a woman in a blue dress at the front of the room.
“How many of you use Facebook?” she asks.
“Everyone,” replies the group.
“Is it for your personal development? Is it for finding love? You can’t tell by looking on Facebook if your future partner has HIV.”
The room erupts in embarrassed laughter.
42-year-old Ma Thazin, a trans-woman, has found humour to be a useful tool when educating monastic school students on how to protect themselves from HIV. Over the past two weeks Ma Thazin, founder of Royal Princess - an LGBT rights organisation, has honed her delivery, giving speeches to students, monks and teachers at monastic schools around Yangon, as part of World AIDS day celebrations on December 1.
On Monday, she spoke to a group at the Pyi Lone Chanthar monastic school in Thaketa township, Yangon.
Students in Myanmar’s monastic education system have less awareness about the dangers of contracting HIV, which gives rise to misconceptions about the virus, such as monks not being able to contract it because they have taken a vow of celibacy, says Ma Thazin.
“From a religious perspective, most people assume that monks can’t suffer from this kind of virus. But that’s wrong,” she said.
Ma Thazin met five infected monks at Wai Bar Gi, an Infectious Diseases Hospital in North Okkalapa, while working as a volunteer from 2008 to 2011.
Needle reuse in rural areas and sharing razor blades when shaving puts monks at risk to contracting HIV, said Ma Thazin.
“It is worse for monks in villages where there are no registered healthcare professionals.”
Ma Thazin has an unlikely ally in A Shin Zawti Ka, the head monk of Pyi Lone Chanthar monastic school, home to 30 students and 80 novice monks.
“It cannot be assumed that all of these young monks will be monks their whole lives. They may become laymen for any number of issues... So, they need educating too.”
Myanmar has the second highest number of people living with HIV in Southeast Asia, estimated at 230,000, while last year, AIDS claimed 7,800 lives in Myanmar.
14-year-old novice monk A Shin Awwada moved to Yangon from Shan state in 2009 and is living at the Pyi Lone Chanthar monastic school. Prior to Monday’s class no one had ever talked to him about HIV/AIDS prevention before, but now he wants to share what he learned with those in his village.
That will please Ma Thazin who stresses to her young audiences that there’s no need to be shy when sharing knowledge about prevention.
“Like any virus which can spread between people, if one has knowledge about HIV/ AIDS, it can be prevented,” she said.