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Dr. Elizabeth Goodburn reports on her recent visit to Myanmar… 

The Project

In September I made my second visit to Yangon on behalf of Soapbox to participate in the inception phase of a DFAT (Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade) funded project. Through a partnership between Soapbox, WaterAid Myanmar, and Jhpiego, the project will support the Myanmar Ministry of Health & Sports (MoHS) in their goal of improving Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) and Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) in HealthCare Facilities with a focus on maternity units in Township hospitals.

This is critical as we know that due to the nature of childbirth, women and newborns are particularly vulnerable to the risks of infection.

We also know that infection rates are reduced in healthcare facilities with well functioning WASH and IPC infrastructure and improved hospital cleaning.

This Project started in July 2018 following a 6-month development phase and will last for 5 years.  Funding for the project will be through the DFAT Water for Women (WfW) fund.  This WfW project will be unique in its focus on health care facilities and health systems strengthening. In keeping with WfW funding principles, the project will have a strong focus on Gender Equality & Social Inclusion (GESI).

The project design has built upon the findings of a MoHS Needs Assessment of WASH in Health Care Facilities undertaken in collaboration with UNICEF, WHO, WaterAid, Burnet Institute and Soapbox in 2017. The results of this study were officially presented by the MoHS and discussed in a seminar in August this year, with the aim of supporting follow-on activities including this WfW Project.

Making connections

It was wonderful to be able to meet with the WaterAid Myanmar team in person again after many Skype meetings over the last few months. Walking down the leafy lane to the WaterAid office in the mornings with the crows calling from the trees felt warmingly familiar given my previous experiences of working in Myanmar. A member of the WaterAid UK team was also visiting at the same time along with a member of the Nepal WaterAid team and it was useful to be able to make those connections to ensure we are all sharing our goals for the country. The WaterAid Health Co-ordinator and I also set up a joint Skype meeting with the Regional WaterAid Health Advisor, which was very useful in gaining updates in regional development of IPC & WASH standards. We were also able to have a Skype meeting with Claire Kilpatrick who has recently joined the Soapbox team to provide IPC and QI input in addition to her related work with WHO.

What we achieved

Pending MoHS approval, a Project Launch event is planned for the near future involving all key stakeholders. In collaboration with the WaterAid Myanmar Project Manager and Health Officer, I was able to have an input into preparation of information leaflets for this event. We also worked on making information available for Global Handwashing Day.

The WaterAid Myanmar Health Co-ordinator had set up a meeting with the Jhpiego partners and we met with their health team in their office. This was an extremely useful exercise in preliminary planning for the various stages of the project implementation. The Township hospitals which will participate in the project have not yet been finalised so we were able to input some suggestions relating to the selection as part of the planning process. We discussed the various stages which might be needed for implementation of the Soapbox TEACH CLEAN package and agreed that the first step would be to arrange an orientation session with the leads of the key partners who will be involved in the training. Following this, the package, which includes a Train the Trainer approach to allow for country adoption and adaptation, would undergo provisional local adaptation and translation before being piloted. We were able to review the TEACH CLEAN modules and emphasise the practical and interactive nature of the training.

The Project design includes the appointment of a Project Officer, based in the WaterAid Myanmar office, to lead the in-country implementation and co-ordination of Soapbox activities. This staff member will devote 50% of their time to Soapbox activities and 50% to WaterAid activities thus providing a key bridge between project partners and inputs.  During the week of my visit, we were able to finalise these details and will look forward to the successful candidate joining the team this month.

During the week,  the WaterAid Myanmar Director brought to our attention that there will be a MoHS Research Congress in January 2019. A conference session will be devoted to WASH issues. The value of Soapbox Collaborative participation was highlighted and Professor Wendy Graham has agreed to give a presentation about the global work of Soapbox.

One evening towards the end of the week the administrative staff at the WaterAid Myanmar office very kindly arranged to take us to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. This was a wonderful experience. The golden roof of the pagoda was lit up and there were very many people, including families, visiting to make offerings and to meditate. A memorable end to an excellent collaborative visit and we look forward to future work together with our partners in supporting the progress of the improvement of WASH and IPC in healthcare facilities, particularly for maternal and child health in the pursuit of quality universal health coverage.

Top Photo:  Dr Elizabeth Goodburn (Soapbox Technical Advisor) presenting the TEACH CLEAN Package to WaterAid’s Myanmar Health Co-ordinator, Country Director, and Project Manager