This month the Migrant Youth and Empowerment (MYE) team, based in Mae Sot, conducted a sexual and reproductive health workshop at the local prison. MAP is in its fourth year of running these workshops inside the facility, and is currently the only outside organization with permission to organize educational workshops for inmates here in Mae Sot. At this month’s workshop, six MYE team members shared information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV/AIDS and reproductive health, in Burmese, Thai and Karen languages, and handed out condoms and pamphlets for further reading. There were 50 females who participated in the morning session, and 50 males who participated in the afternoon session. Although the MYE team focuses their inmate outreach on individuals between 18 and 25 years of age, older inmates were also welcomed at the workshop and were eager to participate.
MAP staff giving a presentation on STIs, HIV/AIDS, and reproductive health at the Mae Sot prison.
The MYE sexual and reproductive health workshop aims to provide inmates with information on the prevention and care of HIV/AIDS and/or STIs, while also reducing the stigma around these issues. Inmates living with HIV/AIDS and/or STIs only have access to medication if they arrive to prison with it in hand, or if they find themselves in a medical emergency—at which point the prison will deliver them to the local hospital. MAPs presence at the prison serves as a critical link between these inmates, their families, and Mae Sot hospitals. In the past, inmates’ family members have contacted MAP to arrange for the delivery of their relatives’ medications inside the prison, and MYE has connected these family members with local hospitals that are willing to provide STI and/or HIV/AIDS medication at a reduced price. Medication for STI and HIV/AIDS is a big expense for inmates and their families; particularly for migrant inmates, who make up a significant portion of the inmate population, and lack access to healthcare services, health insurance and social protections. In cases where an inmate gives birth in prison, MYE has also been able to deliver baby formula to mothers, who do not receive sufficient nutrients in prison.
Although MYE workshops at the Mae Sot prison only happen 3 times a year, their positive effects extend far beyond the events themselves. Beyond the health-centered focus, the MYE team is able to inform relatives abroad that their family member is in Thai prison when inmates have no way to notify them, update migrant inmates on the current state of affairs in Myanmar, as well as translate and facilitate communication between migrant inmates and prison officials. In preparation for their release from prison, the MYE team also provides the names and contacts of Thai and Burmese organizations that can support these migrants after their release from prison. Moreover, the relationships MYE team members build with inmates are important to reducing the stigma around imprisonment and to empowering them as individuals.
The next workshop at the Mae Sot prison will be held in December, and in the meantime, the MYE team will continue carrying out its programing in other areas of Mae Sot. Each month, the MYE team reaches a minimum of 280 individuals in schools, factories, and villages to conduct sexual and reproductive health workshops. The topics covered at these workshops range from HIV/AIDS, to family planning, to adolescent health, to STIs, and to reproductive health. These workshops are geared towards 10 to 25 year-olds, although they are open to all community members and attended by many.
MAP staff and men at the Mae Sot prison.