HIV: “Sri Lanka is a low prevalent country, but at high risk”

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“HIV is weapon of mass destruction”- Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General

The global AIDS epidemic continues to grow, unfortunately and there is concerning evidence that some countries are seeing a resurgence in new HIV infection rates, which were previously stable or declining. However declines in infection rates are also being observed in some countries, as well as positive trends in young people’s sexual behaviours.

According to the latest figures published on November 21st 2006, by UNAIDS/WHO AIDS Epidemic Update, an estimated 39.5 million people are living with HIV. There were 4.3 million new infections in 2006 with 2.8 million (65%) of these occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and important increases in Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, where there are some indications that infection rates have risen by 50% since 2004. In 2006, 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.

A seminar organizes by the Ministry of Labour and Foreign Employment, and the International Labour Organization/United States Department Of Labour (ILO/USDOL)- HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme for Media Personnel in Sri Lanka, was held at the Galle Face Hotel on November 22nd 2006.

[Poster about HIV/AIDS displayed at Galle Face Hotel]

Ms. Tine Staermose, Director of International Labour Organization delivered a speech on ILO’s concerns regarding HIV/AIDS.

The following are the excerpts of her speech:

“The ILO is particularly concerned about how HIV/AIDS influences people of working age. The HIV epidemic affects adults of working age around the world. The active populations of nations with a resulting impact on the labour force production, enterprise performance, and economic growth. Sri Lanka is not a high prevalent country. But this does not mean that we should stay complacent and only prioritize other. I believe that we shall mobilize ourselves and our communities to be ready to tackle a potential epidemic. We have seen globally, for individual countries the consequences of the epidemic include mounting pressure on the health services, social security system, falling life expectancy, a contracting workforce, loss of skilled labour, lower productivity from farms and enterprises, and a reduction of growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

This is turn mean that progress towards development including the achievement of the global decent work agenda is being undermined by the incapacity and loss of government officials, business people, trade union activists, and community leaders.

The ILO estimates that over 26 million workers in their productive prime are infected with HIV. It has also calculated that the size of the labour force in high prevalence countries will be between 10% and 30% smaller by 2020 than it would been without HIV/AIDS. The epidemic cuts the supply of labour, undermines livelihoods, encourages discrimination, compromises enterprises growth, and economic development. We have also seen that it can have a detrimental effect on child development with many more children falling into child labour. Because the workforce of the future is weakened by the fact that children are being taken out of school early to help care for sick relatives, to raise income for the family, or they have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The burden of care falls especially hard on women, and increasingly on the elderly, who take care of orphaned children and try to maintain family income.

The workplace-private or public, formal or informal suffers because production may be disrupted and productivity reduced just as direct labour costs are rising. Productivity is affected by the loss of skilled and experienced workers by absenteeism, and by falling workplace morale. Market demand may be affected as increasing number of people divert their income and savings to health-related spending. And others loose confidence in companies that take no action in high prevalence situations. Rising costs include medical treatment, funeral costs, insurance, replacing, and training and retaining staff. Just as additional expenditure is needed on essential services and social protection the national economy is weakened by a contracting productive sector, falling tax revenues, and a decline in foreign investment.

This scenario of what is happening in a number of high prevalence countries is a stark reminder of what could happen anywhere, where national efforts are not mobilized in time and correctly targeted. Also here in Sri Lanka. It is important to be both practical and highly ethical about it. There is a range of good materials and tools that can be used. The International Labour Organization Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS is a blueprint for workplace action. It provides practical guidance to governments, employers and workers as well as other stakeholders for developing national and workplace policies and programmes to combat the spread of HIV, and mitigate its impact. It covers the key areas of prevention and behaviour change, non-discrimination, care and support. The success of the Code lies precisely in its practical application.”

Dr.Dayanath Ranatunga, Programme Officer (Training) of HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme of International Labour Organization, delivered a speech on Basics of HIV/AIDS and global and national situation.

The following are the excerpts of his speech:

“The first HIV infected person was reported in San Francisco, USA on June 5th 1981. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was discovered in 1983. The first HIV infected person was reported in Sri Lanka in 1986. He was a foreign national. The first Sri Lankan, who was infected with HIV was reported in 1987.

So far 815 HIV positives have been reported up to September 2006. 151 deaths have been reported up to now. 24 children have been reported to have infected with HIV.

Although Sri Lanka is a low prevalent country, but at high risk. Because of low level of condom use, prevalence of high risk behaviours, and close proximity to India. 5.3 million HIV positive cases have been reported in India. People of North and East of Sri Lanka travel to South India, due to the escalating violence in those areas. North and East of Sri Lanka are vulnerable parts. Western Province has 62% of HIV reported cases.

95% of HIV transmission is through unprotected sex. 3% of HIV is transmitted through mother to child, 1% through blood transfusion, and 1% through by drug users injecting drugs, the rest of the drug users inhales drugs. Although no formal studies have been carried out, Sri Lanka has an estimated 30,000 drug users according to Panos Global AIDS Programme in July 2006.

Sex is a hidden factor in our society. We do not have a healthy discussion about sex. The age to have sex is coming down to 16 or 17 years. The trend is changing.

We use condoms not to prevent HIV/AIDS, but to prevent pregnancy. Reported HIV cases on males 60%, and females 40%. The proportion is 1: 1.5. Women are more vulnerable because of biological factors, social factors, cultural factors, and financial factors. 40% of women in India got infected through their husbands according to a recent survey.”

[Poster about HIV/AIDS displayed in Sinhala, Tamil and English at Galle Face Hotel]

Dr. N. Edrisinghe, Director of National STD/AIDS Control Programme, delivered a speech on National response to HIV/AIDS.

The following are the excerpts of his speech:

“Anti Retro Viral Treatment (ARV) began in latter part of 2004. World Bank strengthened the national response. From December 1 st 2004 82 beneficiaries started to receive free Anti Retro Viral Treatment (ARV). 213 people have developed AIDS.

The National AIDS Council was established under the chairmanship of the President Mahinda Rajapakse. 1.8 million US dollars is allocated. This global fund will be utilized to educate the school children in ten districts, and five estate sectors in Sri Lanka in the next five years.

And we will sign a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) soon with the Clinton Foundation to fight against HIV/AIDS in Sri Lanka.

People Living With HIV/AIDS are being looked after in a better way in Thailand. We should create awareness among the people about the mode of transmission, prevention, treatment, care and support.”

[Poster about HIV/AIDS displayed at Galle Face Hotel]

Minister of Labour Relations and Foreign Employment Athauda Seneviratne was the chief guest at seminar on HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme for Media Personnel in Sri Lanka.

The following are the excerpts of his speech:

“HIV/AIDS is like death threats. We try to escape from death threats. Likewise we try to escape from HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS is a deadly disease. We are culturally concerned community.

Marriage is important. Bond between a man and a woman is necessary. And our society accepts one partner concept. Sex is essential to have children. Otherwise we will not be able to make our community grow. But we should not become sex starved society.

We are afraid to go for blood test. We need to be bold to go for blood test to make sure about our HIV status. HIV/AIDS becomes a threat to the whole human race.

We all have to get together and act together to battle against HIV/AIDS. Migrant workers, factory workers, and plantation workers should be educated more on HIV/AIDS.”

Dr. Indira Hettiarachchi, Natinal Programme Coordinator, HIV/AIDS Workplce Education Programme of the International Labour Organization spoke about the objectives of the programme.

The following are the excerpts of her speech:

Dr. Indira Hettiarachchi the National Project Coordinator addressing the participants explained the objective of the programme is to Create awareness on basics of HIV/AIDS and the global and local situation ,Sensitise participants on stigma and discrimination and its social and economic implications and to Sensitize media personnel on sensible reporting and their responsibility in prevention of AIDS and elimination of stigma and discrimination.

She also said that the ILO/USDOL- HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme has many project partners comprising employers organizations, Trade Unions and the corporate sector. Thirteen leading companies in the hotels, plantations and manufacture sectors are implementing HIV/AIDS prevention programmes in their workplaces and several of them have developed Workplace HIV/.AIDS Policies. Nearly 50 District Labour Officer’s Trained by the project as Master trainers are conducting awareness programmes in factories in many parts of the country. The project provides assistance to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment to reach the male migrant workers through the Foreign Employment Recruiting Agencies. She emphasized the need to provide information to the people who have less access to information through appropriate media channels.

People can go to the Government STD Clinics (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) located in twenty six places, to do blood test for HIV. They are located in Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Puttlam, Chilaw, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Moneragala, Kurunegala, Kegalle, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Matale, Badulla, Ratnapura, Negombo, Ragama,Colombo, Kalutara, Galle , Balapitiya, Matara, and Hambantota.

Source: humanityashore

Contact: Dushi.Pillai@gmail.com

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