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26th March 2000
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News 100 years ago

Cynosure of all eyes
The Post Office (as the Postal Department was then known) had got down a motor car. It had a trial trip from Colombo to Avissawella on February 19. Leaving Colombo at 8 o'clock in the morning and travelling at the rate of ten miles an hour without any strain and taking in supplies of water for the boiler at two places on the way, it reached Avissawella safely and the total amount of oil consumed on each journey was 11 gallons.

A news report says: "Mr. Summers, the driver and Mr. Van Cuylenberg, his assistant drove the car and the trip was a successful one. The trip could be done in two hours and the tank had to be refuelled only once during the journey. Crowds of natives accompanied the car long distances and it was a cynosure of all eyes."

Incidentally, it was two years later (February 1902) that the first private automobile was imported to Ceylon by E. G. Money.

Bicycles for hire
H. W. Cave & Company offers bicycles for hire by one day, week or month. Good strong Roadsters are available, both ladies & gents. 

The Company also advertises bicycles for sale. At least two brands are available. Singer Royal for Rs 275 or monthly payments of Rs 27.50. 

The Swift, a first class machine fitted with Dunlop pneumatic tyres, frame enamelled black priced at Rs 300 or 12 monthly payments of Rs 30. 

Fifty cigarettes for one rupee!
In a half page advertisement, Ogdens' Guinea Gold cigarettes "sweet and fragrant" are advertised by H W Cave & Company for one rupee per tin of 50 cigarettes. The advertisement has a warning: 'Beware of imitations'.
Governor rides to Sigiriya
Doing his usual outstation rounds, the Governor rides to Sigiriya by the shortest route from Habarana along with his ADC, Captain Corrie, Medical Officer Dr Perry and Private Secretary Mr Nicolson. He is met on arrival by Mr Bell, Archaeological Commissioner, Rate Mahattaya of the division and minor headmen. The Government Agent NCP, Mr Booth follows on his bicycle shortly afterwards.

In the evening Mr. Bell conducts the Governor to the foot of the rock by a path recently cut and shows the wonders of the rock gallery and the frescoes. The Governor proceeds to the extreme north end of the gallery to examine the restoration of the wall by the Archaeological Survey Department. He appears to be much struck with the picturesque and unique antiquities of the rock and the surroundings. 

The following morning he ascends the rock and has a magnificent view of the country round, besides inspecting the details of the ruined citadel on the summit, which has just received the annual cleaning. He seems to make light of the descent that has tried the nerves of many a visitor. 

Fashionable wedding
The Observer reports "a fashionable Ceylonese wedding" which took place in Colombo on February 26. 

"The contracting parties were Mr. Fredrick Henry de Saram, Police Magistrate of Kalutara and son of the late Mr. Henry de Saram, Proctor and Miss Helen Craine Louise Rene de Saram, the elder daughter of Mr. R F de Saram of the firm of Messers FJ & RF de Saram, the popular Solicitors and Notaries. The two families are held in high esteem by all the different communities and consequently there was a large gathering on this auspicious occasion and the festivities in connection with the occasion were carried on in a grand scale."

KV line takes shape
Government Agent, Western Province is engaged at the Colombo Kachcheri in enquiring into the claims of those interested in 25 lots of Crown land situated at Gangodawila which are to be acquired by Government for the Kelani Valley railway extension. 
-Media Man

Fighting against hidden hunger

By Passanna Gunasekera
Child abuse has been the subject of debate over the past decade. Newspapers carried shocking articles. Advertisements on this issue touched us. But what have the images of ill-fed, malnourished 'living skeleton' like children make us wonder? Have we ever considered malnutrition to be a violation of a child's rights, a severe form of abuse that affects society?

Celebrating "Nutrition Week" with the theme "Give iron a chance for health and strength' from March 20 -26, the Nutrition Co-ordination Unit along with UNICEF is emphasizing that malnutrition in the form of a common nutritional deficiency in Sri Lanka, iron deficiency or hidden hunger needs to be battled.

At a seminar last week, nutrition experts said an anaemic mother gives birth to an underweight baby. These babies have a stunted growth and poor mental development. They are lethargic and susceptible to disease. As adults they in turn produce unhealthy and weak babies. This is a vicious circle.

Iron deficiency leads to nutritional anaemia where haemoglobin which gives blood cells their red colour becomes lighter in pigmentation. A natural element as iron is banal. Yet, iron deficiency is ranked No. 1 among common deficiencies. There are many factors that contribute to this cause. The most talked about being behavioural patterns; feeding practices, diet choices, not buying the right food, decline of breast feeding, menstruation, hookworm, bleeding during the confinement and haemorrhoids.

Iron can be divided in any particular food item into haem and non-haem iron. Although haem iron is found in meat and fish, an appreciable quantity of non-haem iron is found in legumes, eggs and milk. The Sri Lankan diet mainly consists of non-haem iron of which a mere 5% of the ingested iron is absorbed. This is one of the less known causes. Factors such as tannin in tea, coffee and bran cereals, food containing phytates or phosphates or a cup of tea or coffee immediately after or before a meal inhibit the absorption of iron resulting in a deficiency.

The officials of the Nutrition Co-ordination Unit and UNICEF strive to educate mothers on the importance of overcoming iron deficiency. 


Young ones with big dreams 

By Ruhanie Perera
Rihana Thaha maybe young, but she is bold. She reaches out to her community, creating awareness among her people. Her work is to teach them personal hygiene, healthcare, basic first aid and family planning methods.

Rihana at 20 has just finished her A/Levels and wants to become a teacher. But like anyone else stepping into the 'real' world, she has a dream of making a difference. Unlike most others she made that dream a reality. Almost as soon as she left school she became a youth health volunteer working in a camp for displaced persons in Kekirawa, Anuradhapura. 

"I wanted to do something for my community," says Rihana simply. She goes on to explain that even before she became a health volunteer she worked with the midwife in the area. "The midwife was boarded at our place so I went around with her on her rounds. This way the people came to know and trust me, because they talked to me, as there was a language barrier between them and the midwife."

She is grateful for this learning experience, which taught her the way to gain people's trust, a skill she needed once she became a volunteer. "We needed to make them understand that 'family planning' did not mean to stop having children. And make them understand that we were concerned about the bigger picture, which was their health. Of course there were sceptics," laughs Rihana, "but we soon got the message across". For her that was the hardest part.

"I'm not scared, these are my own people. The fact that they love me and trust me, is in my opinion, my greatest achievement - I'm happy." Rihana wants to be a teacher some day, but that's not going to stop her from doing her bit for her community.

Watching the youth health workers speaking of their experiences, at the press conference organised by the Family Planning Association (FPA) last week, 21, one was aware that what was taking place at the auditorium of the Association's Headquarters was a real success story. 

The focus of the FPA's project "Health initiatives in camps of displaced persons"undertaken with the volunteers' help, was 24 refugee camps in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Puttalam. The project has benefited 13,500 families.

The decision to improve the health of the people living in these camps came after the cholera epidemic in the area. 

Although the displaced families had been provided with food, clothes and shelter, health facilities were inadequate. Added to that the language barrier posed problems to the service from the government.

The main objective of the project was to improve health awareness among the people, to facilitate government health services to reach the people and to improve the practice of family planning among the community. They also focused on introducing sexual and reproductive health counselling to cater to the youth in the camps, creating awareness on issues relating to gender and women's empowerment and creating a group of First Aid volunteers to serve the community. 

Having successfully completed the project with the support of the Netherlands Trust Fund, the FPA attribute their success to community participation, the untiring efforts of the health officers and the grit, determination and dedication of the youth health workers. 

Sujana, Joyce, Asirifa, Nusrath and Shifani, all in their early twenties, are working at various camps as youth health volunteers. They all joined as volunteers after they left school and underwent the initial training programmes. Their eyes light up when they talk about their work. The greatest satisfaction they get is the knowledge that their community is getting the help they need and that they are learning something in the process. 

Most people are quick to pinpoint the failings of the youth. 

But here is a case of the youth taking the lead to help their fellow human beings and in turn their country. They have the right mixture of courage and compassion. In their eyes there is a look of determination - they will, in their own way make this world a better place.


You're not alone out there

By Feizal Samath
The World Bank is funding a purpose-built HIV/AIDS centre in Sri Lanka aimed at ensuring the confidentiality of patients among other needs for this disease, which may infect some 80,000 people by the year 2005, a volunteer group says.

"Confidentiality is a problem and often it is difficult to maintain this at Room 33 (HIV/AIDS centre) of the National STD/AIDS Control Programme near the Colombo National Hospital," Mathew Tyne, project coordinator of AIDSline said.

AIDSline is a new telephone counselling service launched in January this year by the AIDS Coalition for Care, Education and Support Services (ACCESS), offering free advice and guidance to callers seeking information on HIV/AIDS.

ACCESS is a non-profit organization involved in a range of AIDS related projects.

Both Tyne and ACCESS chairperson Dr. Kamalika Abeyratne, a recent recipient of the Presidential Award for services to medicine, told a media conference last week that though records of AIDS patients and walk-in clients at the National STD/AIDS Control Programme must be kept confidential, the information somehow gets out to the public.

AIDS - a near fatal disease with no cure - still, rather unfortunately, evokes public anger than sympathy. AIDS patients and their families often face disastrous consequences if a village community is aware that an AIDS victim lives in their midst.

Some years ago, a provincial correspondent discovered there was an AIDS patient living in his village and ran the story in a newspaper. The report, though not identifying the victim, gave details of the street where the man lived. Angry villagers chased the man and his family out of the village.

This incident was related during a recent discussion between AIDS

volunteers and some media persons to illustrate the need for the print media to exercise caution and responsibility when reporting these issues.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a 'collection' of various diseases that is almost fatal and is caused by a virus known as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).HIV attacks and destroys blood cells and is found primarily in body fluids like blood, semen and vaginal/cervical secretions, according to medical evidence.

Though Sri Lanka is considered a low prevalence country in terms of HIV/AIDS, UN estimates reckon there may be 80,000 persons in Sri Lanka infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, by 2005. 

According to current government figures, the number of deaths from AIDS up to August 1999 was 73 while HIV positive cases totalled 286 and AIDS carriers were 100.

Wasantha Kotuwela, an AIDS Coalition volunteer, said the AIDS hotline had seen reasonable success since its inauguration in January. "We have had so far between 70 to 80 calls with clients including a 62-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy," he said.

Many of the callers were males in the 26 to 40-year age group. The hotline (telephone number: 074-516495) operates from 4 pm to 8 pm daily and is manned by a trained team of 25 ACCESS volunteers.

Mr. Kotuwela, who has worked as a volunteer in suicide prevention work for many years and is also an accomplished tele-drama actor, said the ultimate objective of the hotline was to build a support system for those infected with the disease.

"We need more volunteers. We are desperate for more volunteers," Mr. Kotuwela told reporters, suggesting that the hotline could be open for more hours during the day if there were enough volunteers.

Tyne, an Australian volunteer attached to ACCESS, said AIDSline will provide information without questioning the caller about his or her name and other personal details. 

"It would provide information not only on HIV/AIDs but also on all sexual matters," he said, adding that often callers ask for information on basic matters like "I had sex with someone abroad last week ... have I got AIDS?"

Interestingly, Sri Lankans are not shy anymore to speak about their sexual behaviour. "They may not identify themselves - and we don't need to know - but they are forthcoming on sexual matters and look for advice," he said.

Providing a simple information service to people and acting as a door or a gateway for those who need AIDS-related services is among the goals of AIDSline, Tyne said.

Tyne said AIDSline was launched with limited resources but is now supported by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) over a 12-month period.

What happens after that? "We may have to look for other funding avenues to continue this service," explained Sherman De Rose, another ACCESS official.

ACCESS chairperson Kamalika Abeyratne, a medical doctor, says that as well as attempting to prevent the spread of AIDS, the AIDS hotline is also trying to make contact with those already directly affected.

"There are many HIV+ (positive) people out there feeling lonely and afraid. If any HIV+ person or his family wishes to contact us we would be pleased. The worst aspect of this disease is the isolation that is attached to it. It is a condition that many feel scared to talk about," she said.

AIDSline will act as a link between patients and other information-seeking callers with doctors, counsellors, psycho-social support groups and even the clergy for spiritual care.

ACCESS officials said Sarvodaya recently held awareness programmes for Buddhist monks on how to handle HIV/AIDS in the community and support victims. In Jaffna, the Catholic clergy is said to be acting as a support group for victims while in Colombo the Salvation Army performs this role.

Officials said they were hoping to build a dossier of doctors who sympathise with HIV/AIDS patients and offer this service through the hotline. Counselling through letters and face-to-face contact is also planned by ACCESS.

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