Access to sexual and reproductive health services are vital for young people to understand their bodies, protect their health and realise their full potential. Through our Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), Australia supports organisations like Burnet Institute to deliver quality sexual and reproductive health education to vulnerable individuals and communities in our region.
By Lia Jacqueline Burns, Myanmar Country Program Manager at Burnet Institute
Burnet Institute (BI) has a strong track record of using evidence-based approaches to improve access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services, and I’m proud to contribute to their work to improve the SRH of young people in Myanmar.
Thirty (30) percent of the population in Myanmar are under 30 years old and are a critical socio-economic resource during the current political, economic and social transition. Investment in their health and wellbeing brings triple dividends: now; in the future as community, political and global leaders; and as parents of the next generation of children.
Back in 2015, there were no published studies on SRH knowledge, attitudes or needs of adolescents in Myanmar. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) supported BI to complete formative research into adolescent reproductive health in Magwey, one of Myanmar’s poorest regions. The study found that adolescent girls and boys in monastic schools lack essential sexual and reproductive health (SRH) knowledge and only one third of students had received essential information on puberty, menstruation, reproduction and contraception. Many mothers, teachers and adolescents did not support adolescent SRH education, particularly among early adolescents, fearing that such information will distract students from their studies, encourage young people to start relationships and contribute to early marriage among girls.
These findings informed the design of BI’s first adolescent health project in Magwey, situated on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. Funded through the ANCP, this project works with local schools and health facilities to improve the SRH knowledge of adolescents and address barriers to young people accessing quality SRH education and services across three townships.
Phogyi Monastic School is one of the eight schools we are working with. During my second visit to this school, I sat with Principal Monk U Pyinhyarthiri to hear his perspectives of the project.
U Pyinhyarthiri is a humorous man with great enthusiasm for improving his school and opportunities for his students. Despite a more conservative outlook, he acknowledges the importance of better access to SRH education, knowledge and services, and is also happily surprised about the indirect benefits for the school. Through the provision of in-service training and teaching materials for teachers ( for some this is the first time) along with Principals training on LSE curriculum and their involvement in the Project Supervisory Committee, U Pyinhyarthiri explains, “…. my senior teachers and I have found new confidence to share learning and ideas at large meetings”.
As we gather to chat to the students and teachers, U Pyinhyarthiri tells me this project has helped his school to go from “
We next visited Thinyargone Monastic School and Principal Nun Daw Kalyar Ni. It is lunch time and the students are with the very popular sports equipment, also provided through this ANCP SRH project.
We discuss plans identified by the teachers and students to improve delivery of the SRH curriculum, for example peer support, external excursions and exposure to other schools; additional library resources, and then the Principal told me a story. A local community project recently established by the spouses of Regional Ministers aims to provide care and support for families to prevent child abandonment. During a visit to provide clothes and sanitary pads, commodities for the children, Daw Kalyar Ni explained the project and advocated SRH and prevention through early and appropriate education to students. She felt she changed the views of these to “SRH education = prevention not promotion.”
My visit assured me that our approach with these schools has bought far reaching benefits. By participating in this project, these schools are collaborating in early research on adolescent SRH in Myanmar and addressing the immediate needs of vulnerable individuals and communities.
 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census
 The Lancet. Our Future: a Lancet Commission on Adolescent health and wellbeing. 2016
Lia has been working on the Myanmar Program at Burnet since 2010, following an extensive career with the Australian aid program located both in Australia and South East Asia. She has expertise in program development, project design and management, research management and coordination, operations management, stakeholder management and business development. Lia has a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology from ANU and a Masters in International Public Health from Monash University. She is particularly interested in the health and wellbeing of young people in South East Asia.