The Diplomat (12.18.2013)
The Diplomat reported that Myanmar had reduced the HIV infection rate among female sex workers from 40 percent in 2005 to lower than 10 percent in 2013, according to Population Services International (PSI). Andrew Hunter, program and policy manager of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, attributed Myanmar’s success to implementation of an empowerment-based model in which sex workers ran the program, rather than Thailand and Cambodia’s coercive testing models that focused on 100-percent condom use programs. Cambodia’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology, and STD estimated that Myanmar’s HIV epidemic paralleled Cambodia’s, which peaked 10 years ago at a 42-percent HIV infection rate for brothel-based workers and 18 percent for entertainment workers.
Melissa Hope Ditmore, researcher on worker-led initiatives in the sex industry, documented the success of the Targeted Outreach Program (TOP), the largest PSI-initiated HIV prevention program in Myanmar. TOP successfully reached 55 percent of females and 70 percent of men who had sex with men among the country’s estimated 60,000 sex workers. Kay Thi Win, a former sex worker and currently head of the AIDS Myanmar Association (AMA), stated that she had learned how to use condoms for protection from TOP. AMA also meant “big sister” in Burmese. Win stated that AMA, the only 100-percent sex worker-led organization in Myanmar, provided health education, HIV referral, sexually transmitted infection counseling and treatment, and sexual and reproductive health services.
Win told the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) that sex workers felt empowered in the financial transaction, rather than in need of rescue. AWID awarded AMA a grant for teaching financial skills to sex workers. Win estimated that women working in entertainment clubs were able to make $100 to $200 per month, in comparison to the estimated daily income of fewer than $2 for many Myanmar residents.