By Nay Min Htun, Deputy Director Communications, PSI Myanmar and Aanya Salot, Digital Health Advisor, PSI Myanmar
Myanmar’s healthcare system is built upon a network of public and private providers, where interdependencies can be complex and difficult to map. Individuals in Myanmar are twice as likely to seek care at a private healthcare facility or pharmacy than a public sector facility.1 There are reasons ranging from long waiting times to see a doctor to unexpected fees. Pharmacies are the main source of drug supply for people with chronic conditions that are associated with a higher risk of COVID-19-related mortality, such as hypertension and diabetes. Therefore, it is critical for pharmacies to ensure an uninterrupted supply of essential medicines during the pandemic.
Stabilizing and strengthening private healthcare providers, particularly pharmacy operators, is crucial for delivering essential care to the population any time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important in order to support prevention and control efforts as the spread of virus increases and public healthcare resources are strained throughout the country.
PSI’s COVID-19 response has benefited from the generous financial support of the Hygiene and Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC), a nearly $700 million global investment by Unilever and UKAID focused on preventing the spread of COVID19 in 37 countries. PSI Myanmar worked with pharmacy operators to secure essential tools and equipment, develop infection prevention communication guidance and conduct individual health education sessions on COVID-19 prevention. Since June 2020, PSI Myanmar has engaged with 1,350+ pharmacy operators, who have been integral in providing community-level messaging to increase the public’s awareness and implementation of COVID-19-preventive behaviors.
Protecting Frontline Workers: Pharmacy Operators and Community Mobilizers
Through its HBCC project, PSI Myanmar worked to develop social and behavior change communication (SBCC) and infection prevention communication materials for pharmacy providers, and secured essential supplies such as acrylic screens, handwashing supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). These supplies helped protect the safety of both the community at large and the pharmacy operators, a significant number of whom are above the age of 65.
The learning and capacity development team at PSI Myanmar used Microsoft Teams to train over 40 community mobilizers on effective COVID-19 prevention methods digitally. These mobilizers then conducted routine socially distanced visits to help ensure that pharmacy operators are well–equipped and informed. San Htwe, a community mobilizer from Mingalardone Township, describes the project and the benefits to the community, “We are providing face masks, portable acrylic stands and infection prevention brochures to the pharmacy and also technical knowledge about COVID-19. After the distribution of these materials, they are using face masks, practicing social distancing and taking care to wash their hands.”
Pharmacy operators are also frontline personnel for tuberculosis (TB) screening and referral services. The signs and symptoms of TB mimic COVID–19.
“Providing acrylic stands and masks to the pharmacy reduced the risk of transmission not only of TB, but also COVID-19,” explained Daw Myint Thandar Hlaing, a pharmacy operator from Mingalardone Township, Yangon Division.
“It is really helpful by standing these acrylic stand at my shop for preventing of COVID-19 airborne transmission between me and the clients.” – U Yan Paing, a pharmacy operator from San Chaung Township
Collaborating with Pharmacy Operators to Deliver Critical SBCC Education
PSI Myanmar also supports pharmacy operators with the dissemination of COVID-19 SBCC messaging to clients who visit their pharmacies, particularly those clients with symptoms of COVID-19. “[This help] is really supportive to my shop,” says Paing. “By supplying these materials, the customers also get awareness about COVID-19 after they get health education from the brochure.”
Unilever and UKAID’s support through the HBCC enables PSI Myanmar to continue assisting the private healthcare providers who are integral in providing community-level messaging and monitoring to help control the spread and mitigate the effects of COVID-19. PSI Myanmar’s work aims to reach populations through interpersonal communication, where messaging and advocacy for COVID-19 preventive behaviors are conveyed firsthand.
To learn more about PSI Myanmar, click here.