Obituary Thura Myint Lwin

19 February 2019

Our great friend and colleague Thura Myint Lwin passed away on Sunday 10 February. Thura was the co-author of TNI’s recent Drug Policy Briefing ‘Methamphetamine use in Myanmar, Thailand and Southern China: assessing practices, reducing harms’. Although he was not able to participate in the report launch, he saw the final copy and was proud of it. We dedicate this report to him.

Himself a former drug user, Thura was intimately familiar with the reasons why people use drugs, the problems they face, and the type of support they and their families need. Like many other drug users of his generation, he did not have access to sterile injecting equipment. Neither did he have access to Hepatitis C treatment, the preventable disease that took his life.

Thura was a pioneer and very active member of self-help groups that campaigned for greater access to ART treatment in the country. He worked tirelessly to end the discrimination and stigmatisation of people living with HIV, drug users and other marginalised groups such as sex workers and men having sex with men. He was involved in establishing the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/Aids (GIPA) group in 2005, and was also one of the founders of the self-help group “Oasis” and the Myanmar Positive Group, the largest network of people living with HIV in the country.

He is fondly remembered by colleagues from the drug user network in Myanmar as a source of inspiration; someone leading the way. One of its members, Htoo Win Kyaw, wrote a beautiful poem for Thura:

You are completely honest as a fresh and simple flower!
You are always in our hearts!
It is too early for the night’s brightest star to fall down on earth.
Even though you are far away from us,
We still hear your voice …
We cannot forget you …
You made us miss you forever
You do right…
You did right…

We have had the privilege to work with Thura for many years. We first met in Yangon in 2006, and he became one of the key researchers for the TNI report ‘Withdrawal Symptoms in the Golden Triangle’ which was published in 2009. He interviewed drugs users in Yangon, Mandalay and Shan State and brought to light many unheard, at times heart-breaking stories of drug users and their families. This research was carried out under very difficult circumstances and at great personal risk for Thura. Yet he never gave up on his commitment to inform others of the challenges faced by drug users in Myanmar and to advocate for better policies that support rather than punish them. The report would have never seen the light without Thura. We are immensely grateful to him and proud of his contribution.

Over the years, Thura was involved in other activities such as drug policy workshops and research for other TNI publications. He also travelled abroad to advocate for more support for drug users and people living with HIV in Myanmar, and to learn about programmes and policies in other parts of the world. He visited our office in Amsterdam twice, first in 2008 on a harm reduction exchange visit and then in July 2018 for a TNI planning and evaluation meeting. By then Thura was already struggling with his health, but he was very eager to join the trip. In hindsight, perhaps he knew it was his last trip abroad.

Thura was 43 years old, and he leaves behind his wife Dah Eh, another tireless campaigner for the rights and needs of people living with HIV. Together they were a great team, and complemented each other in an incredible way. He also had by his side a very caring and warm family, who never gave up on him and stood by his side until the very last moment.

Apart from being a very bright, capable colleague, Thura was a wonderful person with a great sense of humour and so much empathy. This is how we will remember him. We lost a great friend and colleague. We wish Dah Eh and Thura’s family strength and wisdom to deal with this loss.

TNI Amsterdam office and TNI Myanmar Team