AIDS linked to development, poverty: Advisor
The Government of Sri Lanka and international organizations involved in the response to HIV should consider the epidemic as an issue connected with development, ActionAid International (AAI) HIV/AIDS Advisor Tim Zahid said, adding the AIDS epidemic was concurrent with poverty.
He urged stakeholders and policymakers to remain vigilant despite the country’s low prevalence status.“Sri Lanka’s low prevalence status brings about a sense of complacency and sets the country’s response to HIV at a low priority level. But low prevalence does not mean low threat. If this mindset is not changed soon, it will be difficult to maintain the country’s low prevalence,” he said.
Mr. Zahid said according to worldwide statistics, it was clear that the incidence of HIV/AIDS was inextricably linked to poverty and was a developmental issue.“There are no available projects in Sri Lanka that would guide persons living with HIV to sustain effective livelihoods. Yet these are the people who are in dire need of money and resources as they have lost accessibility to many socioeconomic opportunities,” he said.
He said HIV patients must travel from various parts of the island to obtain anti-retroviral drugs, which are only available in Colombo. He also said patients have no access to free testing and counselling.
“Anti-retroviral drugs, which are provided free of charge from the Government to those living with HIV are only available at the IDH and therefore, patients have to travel to Colombo to obtain them. In addition, there is no free testing available for HIV-positive people. Medical tests are costly and persons with no sustainable income suffer because of lack of accessibility,” he said.
According to Mr. Zahid, persons living with HIV are subjected to heavy discrimination in Sri Lanka due to prevailing social taboos on sexuality and a lack of understanding about transmission of the disease. “If a person contracts the disease, society immediately jumps to the conclusion that the victim had multiple partners, without realising the disease could have been transmitted by other methods,” he said.
Mr. Zahid said the Government and AIDS activists should focus on a frame that encompasses both HIV-positive persons and those affected by HIV, such as families.“Children of a person living with HIV are deprived of access to education, economic and social opportunities and empowerment. The stakeholders and policymakers should deal with the denial of such persons’ rights,” he said.
According to Mr. Zahid, another grave concern relating to the disease was the loss of contact with HIV-positive persons immediately after they are detected to be carrying the virus.“When a person is tested for HIV, they frequently refrain from disclosing their correct name and address. Therefore, we lose contact with these persons immediately after the test. Ideally, such persons should receive counselling before and after they are identified to be carrying this disease,” he said.
Mr. Zahid said for the first time, banks and businesses, in recognition of their social responsibilities, had contributed immensely to the 8th ICAAP in recognition of their social responsibilities. He said that the aid organizations should work with these institutions and address the linkage between the AIDS epidemic and poverty.“The programmes that deal with HIV-positive persons should not be charity programmes, because such programmes are temporary. Permanent programmes that address the linkage between AIDS and poverty should be implemented to help patients and their families build sustainable livelihoods,” he said.