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Sunday, 29 November 2009

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HIV positive cases:

Social stigma, main hindrance to proper treatment



 

With plans to have more local and foreign tourists to the North and East after the defeat of the LTTE, the health authorities stressed the need of educating the public on sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

* HIV/AIDS prevalence rate - 0.1 %

* Estimated number of HIV positive - 4,000

* Total number of HIV positive cases since 1985 to 2009 - 1161

* Full blown AIDS cases since 1985 - 302

* Deaths since 1985 - 202

* Mother-to-child cases - 42

* The number of HIV positive recorded this year - 110

* Number of HIV positive males - 58%

* Number of HIV positive females - 42 %

Though there is no significant increase in HIV/AIDS cases reported among the displaced and resettled people of the North and East, the gradual increase in the new HIV infected cases has tiggered an alarm among the authorities to focus their attention on the North and East.

The National STD/AIDS Control Program (NSACP) Director, Dr. Nimal Edirisinghe told the 'Sunday Observer' that new sexually transmitted Diseases (STD) clinics have been opened in Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya and open new clinics in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu shortly.

"Yearly we are getting newly infected people. And we can not say whether the number of HIV positivist are definitely increasing or not", he said.

He said that due to an awareness on the disease, setting up of STD clinics with improved facilities and providing antiretroviral therapy for HIV infected persons, the infection rate has been controlled to some extent.

Worldwide, the life span of HIV infected persons has prolonged due to the antiretroviral therapy. "Now the HIV positive patients are living longer than earlier. At the beginning they thought their lives had just ended with the disease but now antiretroviral drugs have prolonged their lives", he said.

Nearly 190 HIV infected people, whose C4 count is below 200 per micro litre, receive getting antiretroviral drugs.

Dr. Edirisinghe said that the main challenges for Sri Lanka in keeping the disease at bay were by promoting alternative safety measures like using condoms in unprotected sex and warding off the social stigma.

"Still there is a taboo among the people in promoting condoms. But it is a vital tool in prevention of HIV/AIDS", he said.

He said that danger was that the other sexually transmitted diseases were on the increase and the authorities and the public could not overlook the issue easily though the country records a low HIV/AIDS prevalence rate.

The social stigma still hinders the HIV positive from stepping into STD clinics. "This will lead the 'hidden HIV positive' to infect more people.

This stigma also denies them coming for improved treatment in the STD clinics", Dr. Edirisinghe said.

The NSACP Director stressed on more awareness on STDs and HIV/ADIS among schoolchildren to prevent a future disaster. The NSACP has successfully launched a school based awareness program targeted the Ordinary Level students in 500 schools in Sabaragamuwa province under the funds given by the Global Fund.

Without teaching the schoolchildren directly about sex education, the O/L students were taught about health habits covering a range of topics including good health behaviours and STDs.

Over 3,000 teachers in the province were trained to teach the children and the teaching module were prepared.

Dr. Edirisinghe said that these resources could be utilized to commence a national awareness program on STDs for schoolchildren if the Ministry of Education offers assistance.

He said that the Minister of Education Susil Premajayanth agreed to include lessons on good behaviour in the school curriculum, which changes in every four years. "When changes are made all the O/L students will be taught on HIV/AIDS at school", he said.

Dr. Shantha Hettiaracchi of the Health Education Bureau said that the average monthly infection rate is 10 persons and still over 50 percent of the female HIV positive infected through their husbands.

"Though there is no significant threat of a rapid spreading of HIV/AIDS, the number of young population in the age between 25 to 35 keeps on increasing. This poses a major challenge for Sri Lanka with there are more freedom for sexual behaviour compared to few years", he said.

Dr. Hettiarachchi said that there was a change in 'mode of transmission', where the sexual contacts accounts for 96.4 percent, mother-to-child 3.1 percent and through blood 0.5 percent. With two injecting drug uses found to be infected with HIV in 2009, the category of 'injecting drug users' is now added as a mode of transmission of HIV/AIDS in Sri Lanka.During the last nine months (from January to September) 102 new cases were reported to the STD clinics.

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