Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has now become a threat to men, women and children in all parts of the world. Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS. Estimates prepared by the United Nations indicate there are 33.4 million people in the world who had been infected with HIV. Out of this 2.1 million are children. In 2008 2.7 million people were newly infected with the virus. Almost 2 million people had died from AIDS despite recent improvements in access to anti retroviral treatment. Around half of them were infected with HIV before reaching the age of 25 and they had died before they were 38 years of age. Approximately ninety per cent of those infected with HIV and AIDS live in lower and middle income countries.
World AIDS Themes
”Stop AIDS- Keep Promise” was an appeal to governments, policy makers and regional health authorities to ensure they meet many targets that have been set in the fight against HIV and AIDS and especially the promise of Universal access to HIV treatment, care, support and prevention services by this year. The campaign ran until now with a related theme chosen for the World AIDS day each year. It called not only on governments but also on all sectors of the society such as families, communities and civil society organisations to take initiatives and provide leadership in the struggle to stop AIDS.
HIV infection in Sri Lanka
The first case of HIV infection in Sri Lanka was reported in 1986 and the cummulative total reported at the end of 2004 was 614. Of this number 362 were males and 251 were females. By the end of 2004 the reported number of deaths due to AIDS was 131. According to UNAIDS, Sri Lanka with a population of over 19 million had a relatively small number of HIV infected people – 4,800 adults and children as at the end of 2002. However, these figures represent only those who had been admitted to hospitals and hence the number of infected persons and the number who died are likely to be much more.
Sexually transmitted diseases
According to estimates in 1991, about 200,000 cases of sexually transmitted diseases had occurred annually. Evidently the number should be much more because the majority of the cases seeking treatment from private practitioners are not included in the estimate. Presumably only about 15% attend government clinics for treatment. HIV prevalence is higher among those who are migrating within the country and those who are migrating to the middle East and to our neighbouring country- India. In most cases the occurrence of transmitted diseases is unavoidable as this migration is necessary for the economic survival of many households in both rural and urban areas.
The need for public awareness of ways and means of getting rid of AIDS
The general public should be made aware of the national response to the call of the world AIDS Campaign and the action taken at the national level and what is expected from the people individually and as social groups.
In 1992 the government of Sri Lanka initiated the national AIDS control programme through which efforts were taken for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS. This programme was implemented in collaboration with the Provincial Directors of Health, clinics and the national blood transfusion service. The national controlling body is the National AIDS Committee which is a multi sectarian body comprising of different government ministries and institutions and some key NGOs – The Health ministry secretary is the chair person. The National AIDS Control programme office located within the Ministry of Health functions in principle as the Executive Secretariat of the NAC. The overall responsibility rests with the full time programme coordinator.
A national AIDS plan was endorsed by the Ministry of Health in 1994. The approach was multi sectarian with particular attention for sexually transmitted diseases. Social sector NGOs play an important role in the campaign. Two research centres specialising in HIV Law and Ethics for South East Asia, namely the centre for Policy Research and Analysis and the Human Rights Centre, are based at the Colombo University. The ministries of Education, Planning, Tourism, Labour and Youth Affairs are the partners of the National Programme.
Attention should be paid regarding the outcome of the Government programme. In the first instance reliable data should be collected to make the policy and the programme management decisions effective and the collection and dissemination of reliable data is critical for the preparation of a national programme and its implementation to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 in keeping with the millennium development goals in which Sri Lanka is a signatory.
Difficulty to collect reliable information related to HIV/AIDS
It should be noted that it is extremely difficult to collect reliable information related to HIV/AIDS because of the fact that those are affected very rarely divulge the truth about themselves due to sociological reasons. Very often data collectors have to depend on the information recorded in government hospitals and other government institutions. As mentioned earlier many seek medical assistance from private medical institutions and the information is kept secret.
Organisations which have come forward to wipe out HIV/AIDS
In spite of such limitations, certain organisations have come forward with determination to wipe out HIV/AIDS from the world and especially from our country. ‘Save Lanka Kids’ plans to go all out to commemorate World AIDS Day. ‘Rise for Equality, Act for Hope’ is the first ever National Youth conference on HIV/AIDS organised by Save Lanka Kids (SLK) to help, educate and empower youth participants from all parts of the country and makes them change agents in their respective communities.
‘Be HIV Positive campaign’ will be the highlight of the programme as it will open peoples’ eyes literally and metaphorically to be positive about education, educating each other about HIV/AIDS. This is to be positive about awareness on the AIDS epidemic in their communities and positive about support –reaching out to people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.