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Sharp increase in HIV cases cause for concern

2013 Dec 19

A sharp increase in the number of Sri Lankans infected by the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) in the third quarter of 2013 as against the second quarter is causing concern in health circles.

Sixty-nine HIV cases have been reported in the third quarter (July-August-September) this year when compared to 46 in the second quarter (April-May-June). The total number of cases in the first three quarters of 2013 has also risen to 159 from 134 in the same 2012 period.

Confirming the numbers, Dr. Sisira Liyanage, the Director of the National STD/AIDS Control Programme, said it may be due to more people coming in for testing following the awareness programmes being carried out across the country.

The ‘cumulative’ HIV cases at the end of the 2013 third quarter were 1,808 (1,083 males and 725 females) while the ‘cumulative’ AIDS cases at the end of the quarter were 482 (325 males and 157 females). The reported AIDS deaths in this quarter were eight.
The estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS as at the end of 2011 was 4,100 and 100 children below 15 years of age, according to the data of the National STD/AIDS Campaign.

Referring to the latest numbers, Dr. Liyanage said that the detection of a child with HIV recently led to the tracing of several others.
Sixty percent of those detected are within the 25-49 year-age group, while 20% are within the 15-25 year-age group, he said, pointing out that the National STD/AIDS Control Programme was carrying out awareness campaigns not only among the public but also among high-risk groups such as men-having-sex-with-men (MSMs), female sex workers, drug addicts, beach boys and prisoners. Other groups such as truck and three-wheeler drivers are also being informed about HIV.

When asked about the serious concerns raised by sources about HIV infections among young people, Dr. Liyanage said efforts were being made to carry out awareness among this group but “definitely there were obstacles” implying the lack of proper sex education.
UNAIDS Country Officer Dayanath Ranatunga said the ‘significant’ increase of HIV infections among young people is a cause for concern. The new infections not only indicate that young people are sexually active but also that they are not taking any protective measures. This is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

Many sources were quick to point out that, although Sri Lanka is an HIV low-prevalence country, the authorities as well as the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) need to take heed of the “slow but steady” increase in HIV infections from 2000 to 2012.

“There is no time for complacency,” a source said, pointing out that Sri Lanka needs to act on the danger signals showing a gradual rise in HIV-infections. With the proliferation of karaoke bars, casinos and pornography, everyone needs to act and act now, turning the speeches and talk into work.

Have the intervention programmes failed or don’t we have robust interventions, were the issues raised by another source, who pointed out that monitoring and evaluation of interventions are also vital.

There seems to have been no major campaign in recent times, the source said, adding that the banners, posters and meetings seem to come only when World AIDS Day draws near on December 1.

The Commonwealth Medical Association’s Treasurer, Dr. Phophi Ramathuba from South Africa who was in Sri Lanka recently for the Commonwealth meeting said that in her country the lead role in dispelling stigma is played by the leaders.

The President, the Deputy President and the Health Minister get themselves tested for HIV every year in front of the cameras, although their status, whether negative or positive, is not made public, she said.

“Before we go to the factory floor to test workers, the Chief Executive Officer will get himself tested, while celebrities who are on antiretrovirals (ARVs) talk about it openly,” Dr. Ramathuba added.

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