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The National STD/AIDS Programme (NSAP) has been stating recently that data obtained by them have shown a considerable increase in the number of female HIV positives, compared to males.

We have been looking at data published by UNAIDS/WHO and find the following information in the fact sheets. The UNAIDS/WHO estimates for end 2003 and end 2005 for adults (15-49) years are as follows.

2003 Total 3500, Females 600 (17.1%)

2005 Total 5000, Females less than 1000. If this is 900, (18%)

According to the fact sheets, the estimates are made based on data supplied by the national programmes. It is quite evident that there has been no change in the male/female ratio.

The increase in the female proportion stated by the NSAP are the HIV positives detected during a particular period. We feel that this increase is due to several factors such as (1) more females being tested (2) more individuals in the high risk groups tested e.g. female sex workers etc as the NSAP reports conveniently forget to indicate the number of the tests carried out in the various groups.

At the same time it is stated that there are 30,000 child prostitutes. Even the LTTE website Tamilnet quotes this statement to give prominence to what is happening in the South.

The NSAP also states that 200,000 STD cases occur annually in Sri Lanka. The programme however reports less than 10,000 cases i.e. 5% treated in all its clinics. Then, where are the other cases treated?

Who made these estimates and on what basis? Does the NSAP accept these figures as correct? We in the Southern Province find this hard to believe based on data that we have collected from our clinics, for the last few years.

These estimates are made by STD consultants in Colombo. It is well known that data is being manipulated to exaggerate the situation, to attract more funds and trips abroad, for those at the centre. All the STD consultants are concentrated in Colombo and the suburbs, except one, in Kandy. The Southern Province has never had a consultant to teach medical students at the Ruhuna University.

The Health Ministry seems to be quite happy that the HIV estimates continue to be low, although we are aware that no significant preventive activities are being carried out in the SP. This area has beach boys, male and female sex workers, drug addicts and plenty of tourists, but nothing is happening.

Has the NSAP ever thought of investigating why the HIV estimates continue to be low? It is high time that the Health Ministry does a thorough investigation of this programme and set things right.

Weapon flights

It is reported that British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Becket has protested to the US about their use of Prestwick Airport in Western Scotland, to transport laser guided bombs to Israel. Speaking on the same issue, Sir Menzies Cambell of the Lib. Dems. has said, it is particularly provocative for the United States to have acted in this way.

The SNP leader, Alex Salmond has criticized the UK government for acting as an aircraft carrier for the US. The question is, US being the biggest law breaker of the world, whether it will care for any of these protests. President Bush treats the entire world with utmost contempt, except Israel!

It is amazing to note that the same President Bush is accusing Syria and Iran for arming the Hezbollah, while he is arming Israel to the teeth, at a time when hundreds of civilians, many children and United Nation observers have already been eliminated by similar laser guided bombs.

While this intensive arming process is going on, can we ever dream of any ceasefire. While Lebanon is on focus, Gaza is suffering in silence with intensified Israeli attacks. The world looks powerless and gutless to stand against the two dominant countries US and its 53rd State, Israel.

Film 'Da Vinci Code and the Catholic Bishops' conference

H.E. the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa has banned the screening of the film 'Da Vinci Code' in the country, acceding to the request of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Sri Lanka. The film gives a distorted version of the life of Christ, quite contradictory to the Christian belief. The film based on Dan Brown's novel depicts that Mary Magdalene had a child by Christ.

It is nothing but fair for the Catholic Bishops' Conference to make a request to ban the film as it is a degradation of the life of Christ and his divinity. If it is screened in Sri Lanka it would have disturbed the Catholic, misled the children and tarnished the image of Christ among the non-Christians. Even the Buddhist Bhikkus in Hela Urumaya have appreciated the banning of the film 'Da Vinci Code'.

However, the Bishops' Conference in Sri Lanka has come under severe criticism for getting the film banned. Some contend that it has no meaning when the book on which the film is based on is in circulation. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the cinema has a direct and vast impact on the people, than a book.

Others submit that the film is not banned in some Catholic countries in Europe. It is a well known fact that religion is not taken seriously in Europe. In Catholic countries the churches are empty on Sundays and only around 10% seem to practise the religion. The situation is quite different in Sri Lanka.

There are also others who observe that Catholics should not be unduly worried as the film is based only on fantasy created by a novel. Let us take an example. If a film is presented in Sri Lanka on the life of a statement of the calibre of D. S. Senanayake, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Dr. N. M. Perera or Philip Gunawardena and for that matter even on Sir John Kothelawala depicting such a personality was a bribe-taker, what would be the reaction? All without any party affiliations would have denounced it.

Could the character of Christ whom millions of his followers revere and worship, be allowed to be distorted?

The unkindest cut of all is that there are some Catholic clergy among those who find fault with the Bishops' Conference and are not in favour, getting the film banned. Long before the film 'Da Vinci Code' came to the scene, there were some Catholic priests who threw aspersions on the relationship between Christ and Mary Magdalene.

About a decade ago one Catholic priest wrote that Christ would have loved a woman and another promulgated that Mary Magdalene was the 13th disciple of Christ. Of course, as things happen today, there might be some Catholic priests who would like Christ to be a person as depicted in the film 'Da Vinci Code', for obvious reasons. Taking an overall picture, the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Sri Lanka has fulfilled its obligation towards the Catholics by getting the screening of the film 'Da Vinci Code' banned. The Catholic community should be grateful to H. E. the President, for banning the film.

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