Meet Ma Hnin Hnin, a Community Volunteer with the Union Programme to Increase Catchment of Tuberculosis Suspects in Myanmar.
“Being a volunteer in Myanmar is so important in the fight to end TB, we play a critical role in community healthcare,” says Ma Hnin Hnin, who has been a Community Volunteer with the Programme to Increase Catchment of Tuberculosis Suspects (PICTS) in Myanmar for six years.
PICTS, coordinated by The Union Office in Myanmar and local partners, is a community driven project, active in 12 townships within Mandalay, Sagaing Regions and Shan State. PICTS uses an extensive network of volunteers, largely made up of the PATB network (people affected by tuberculosis). The programme has been responsible for identifying thousands of presumptive tuberculosis (TB) cases in the community as well as supporting care and treatment services.
The network of volunteers is essential for the delivery of PICTS. Started in 2012, the programme has a ‘bottom up’ approach, training volunteers to deliver counselling, knowledge and support sessions that actively contribute to case detection and prevention of TB transmission. This unique approach has been extremely successful in TB case detection in Myanmar, allowing personally engaged members of the community to share their experiences and knowledge of TB with others.
Ma Hnin Hnin says, “The work of The Union resonates strongly with me. My daughter, who is now 29 years old, was diagnosed with TB at the age of two. She was treated and cured but so many people are not. It is distressing to think TB is one of the top ten causes of death worldwide yet it is treatable and preventable.”
In 2017, 10 million people fell ill with TB and 1.6 million people died from the disease with 87 percent of new TB cases occurring in the 30 high TB burden countries, including Myanmar.
Talking about the importance of the Community Volunteers in Myanmar Ma Hnin Hnin said, “My daughter was cured of TB following a six month course of treatment but when she became infected it was a very difficult time. It wasn’t easy to get a diagnosis and receive treatment, there was no free service or volunteer help. We had no information or guidance about TB and we were unsure if the treatment she was given would even work. I remember feeling afraid, not only losing my daughter, but also about the discrimination we might face because of the stigma that surrounds TB.
“The work The Union does is so important in my community, when I first heard about PICTS I wanted to become a volunteer and help and support other people affected by TB. I wanted to share my experiences and help to identify more people so they can receive the treatment they need. ”
PICTS is life-changing for the communities it works with. It aims to double the TB case detection rates through the mobilisation of a network of over 300 trained volunteers to distribute information on TB symptoms and how and where to access treatment, conduct door-to-door health education and outreach, provide TB contact tracing, identify presumptive TB patients and facilitate sputum transport between clinics and patients’ homes.
Each weekday Ma Hnin Hnin works as a TB counsellor for PICTS in Maha-Aung-Myae Township Health Centre. “I provide health education and counselling to newly registered TB patients and support patient diagnosis and HIV testing. The best part about volunteering is being a TB counsellor, it is so important to me to share my experiences to help other people.”
As part of the Union initiative to ease sputum examination outside of office hours, Ma Hnin Hnin also provides a Sputum Collection Centre at her home and coordinates samples, records results and offers follow-up plans for further testing.
Globally one-third of the people who become ill with TB each year fail to get an accurate diagnosis and are more likely to die from this curable disease. The work Ma Hnin Hnin does in the community offers a lifeline to those missing people, to date 5,565 TB cases have been referred by the PICTS volunteer network.
In high burden countries, like Myanmar, the Community Volunteers are representatives of their communities, they play a huge role in increasing awareness, finding people with TB, preventing deaths and stopping the spread of the disease. It is estimated that 54 million lives worldwide were saved through TB diagnosis and treatment between 2000 and 2017.
Ma Hnin Hnin continues, “I am so proud of the work I do but it is challenging. Every year we discover more and more TB cases but so many people are still hidden. It is my goal to find more people who need treatment and to continue to learn about TB and TB coinfection so I can offer more support in my community. I want to share the importance of the work Community Volunteers do, we need a strong, active volunteer network so we can achieve our goals in the Fight to end TB.”