Health workers and NGOs that focus on stemming the spread of sexually transmitted diseases conducted outreach activities at the Taungbyone nat festival in Mandalay’s Madaya township last week.

Free blood tests and condoms were provided at the spirit festival, which is an annual gathering point for members of the country’s gay community.

HIV/AIDS mostly affects marginalised groups in Myanmar, including men who have sex with men. An estimated 0.6 percent of those aged 15-49 were infected with the virus at the end of 2012, according to UNAIDS.

“We will give condoms out for free, and we will explain to them why they should use them and let them know how to save their health,” Mandalay Region Ministry of Health HIV officer Dr Kyaw Soe said before the week-long festival kicked off on August 3.

A sexual diseases clinic was also available, where anyone could receive treatment or a check-up.

Dr Kyaw Soe said using a condom was the most important preventative measure people could take.

“We have found that the proportion of young people with sexually transmitted infections is higher in regions where condoms are more difficult to get,” Dr Kyaw Soe said.

The festival, which honours the nat (animist spirit) brothers Min Gyi and Min Lay, takes place in the village of Taungbyone, about 45 minutes north of the city, during the week leading up to the full moon of Wagaung.

Translation by Thiri Min Htun