t is not clear as to what extent the heart rending incident, where a boy is being harassed by the education authorities with regard to his admission to a school over a rumour that his father had died from HIV/AIDS, has attracted the interest of the leaders.
Going by the media reports the incident has failed to invite the attention of the President or the Prime Minister or the Education Minister or the health authorities, and the NGOs that have been engaging in creating HIV/AIDS awareness for decades.
According to reports the principal of a school and later the Zonal education Director had refused to enrol him in the school on the grounds that the parents of other students protested against it for fear of their children being contracted by the deadly virus. It is also said that officials had advised the mother of the boy to send the boy to probationary care instead of enlightening the parents of other children on the matter. Had she followed their advice, it would have been an unending chase for a school by her as there is the danger of authorities of those probation centres too being panicked by the wrong information about the boy.
Interestingly, the boy as well as his mother has been diagnosed HIV negative during investigations, according to reports. Still the principal or the education authorities who are supposed to be knowledgeable people had failed to dispel fears of the parents of other students.
Even if the boy is a positive HIV case, it is ironic and also pathetic that the parents of the other students of the school had this fear towards the HIV/AIDS after a three decades old awareness campaign world-wide, including the methods of spreading of the HIV virus and the inhumane of discrimination and stigmatization of the victims of AIDS patients and their family members.
When the first AIDS case was reported in Sri Lanka as far back as in 1980s the now defunct “Sun” newspaper and its Sinhala and Tamil sister papers “Dawasa” and “Dinapathi” had reported a similar situation where the victim’s family members had been unable to buy even a loaf of bread from the nearby boutique as nobody in the area dared to touch money or any other object that had already been touched by them. The health authorities and the NGOs, local as well as international must be ashamed to realize now that their decades old awareness campaigns conducted using foreign funds worth millions of dollars have been down the drain as the fear still exists to date.
It is well known by now that the HIV virus does not spread by mosquitoes, ticks or other insects, through saliva, tears, or sweat and by hugging, handshaking and sharing toilets. In late eighties the late Princess Diana spearheaded a campaign to de-stigmatize the victims. In 1989 the Princess of Wales opened a new AIDS centre in South East London and gave the Director of the centre - diagnosed HIV positive five years ago- a firm handshake as a message to the world. That was the first attempt to de-stigmatize the condition by a high profile member of the British Royal family. She was also the first prominent figure in the UK to be pictured holding the hand of a person with AIDS in his hospital bed. This iconic image was seen by millions of people all over the world and had an amazing effect in challenging attitudes towards people living with HIV and breaking down stigma and misconceptions some twenty six years ago. But in Sri Lanka, people have not got the message as yet. That is not their fault; rather it is the indication of the failure of all awareness campaigns.