Myanmar’s fight against stigma during the COVID-19 outbreak
SHAN STATE - In late May and early June 2020, a total of 400 volunteers within Shan State received a training session on Fighting social stigma from COVID-19 provided by UNICEF. This was part of the volunteer training jointly conducted between the Ministry of Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement (MoSWRR) and the Myanmar Medical Association. This volunteer training session was the very first face-to-face session dedicated for the volunteer workers who are currently helping in quarantine centres and those who are planning to support there. The training focuses on the hard skills, such as general guidelines, disinfection techniques, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) donning and doffing, as well as soft skills, including communication skills, psychosocial supports and awareness-raising.
The session on anti-stigma explained what stigma is, why certain groups become stigmatized, and the impacts of stigma. The session gave volunteers practical actions for discouraging COVID-related stigma – such as using non-discriminatory language or sharing stories of marginalized people’s efforts to protect everyone from COVID-19.
Daw San San Tin, one of the volunteers, shared her experience of being stigmatized when her daughter planned to come back from Thailand, “Even my close friends looked so shocked to know that my daughter was coming back from abroad. That hurt my feeling a lot.” More personal experiences were shared during the discussion time. Two women volunteers were ill-treated by their own community after having a brief contact with a positive case, “Our families pushed us out of the home, and the neighbours avoided us,” said one of them with tears in her eyes. A male volunteer said that his friends refuse to meet him.
After learning about methods of curtailing stigma in the COVID-19 response activities especially at quarantine facilities, participants looked more relaxed and ready to go back to their volunteer work stations. “I feel more equipped now and I’m dedicated to spread this anti-stigma message in my own community. I will try to be a role model for that,” said Ma Yi Yi Mar, a volunteer in southern Shan State.