TODAY is world AIDS day. Of the various dates denominated in the calendar this is perhaps the most important given the unprecedented impact HIV/AIDS has had on the world. The Sri Lankan story is slightly different with less than 4000 infected people but this is no reason for complacency.In Page 6 of today’s Daily FT issue we have devoted a full page focusing on the issue as well as highlighting some of the private sector initiatives.
The ravages of the AIDS epidemic has sent a stark warning to countries like Sri Lanka that are not only low on the count of sufferers but are also looking to reap massive development within the next few decades. This is a perfect environment for disaster to strike and make the greatest possible impact. Africa for example has had its development severely hampered by AIDS and its interlinked web of socioeconomic challenges and Sri Lanka would do well to earn caution early.
Over the past 27 years, nearly 25 million people have died from AIDS/HIV. It causes debilitating illness and premature death in people during their prime years of life and has devastated families and communities. Further, HIV/AIDS has complicated efforts to fight poverty, improve health, and promote development in countries that need it the most.
Through unprecedented global attention and intervention efforts, the rate of new HIV infections has slowed and prevalence rates have levelled off globally and in many regions. Despite the progress seen in some countries and regions, the total number of people living with HIV continues to rise.
In 2008, globally, about 2 million people died of AIDS; 33.4 million were living with HIV and 2.7 million people were newly infected with the virus. HIV infections and AIDS deaths are unevenly distributed geographically and the nature of the epidemics vary by region. Epidemics are abating in some countries and burgeoning in others. More than 90 percent of people with HIV are living in the developing world.
The impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls has been particularly devastating. Women and girls now comprise 50 percent of those aged 15 and older living with HIV.
The impact of HIV/AIDS on children and young people is a severe and growing problem. In 2008; 430,000 children under age 15 were infected with HIV and 280,000 died of AIDS. In addition, about 15 million children have lost one or both parents due to the disease.
The sixth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) focuses on stopping and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 but many countries are struggling to meet this deadline. Even though global funding is increasing, global need is growing even faster – widening the funding gap. Services and funding are disproportionately available in developed countries, which have to deal with the bulk of patients.
This calls for extra vigilance through awareness, tolerance and understanding. The issue of sex education of youth has had a contentious time in Sri Lanka but it deals with life and death. Children are exposed to sex through a multitude of sources that is virtually impossible to stem. Instead it makes more sense to let go of this archaic attitude and make youth understand the importance of making informed decisions. If they choose, they can assimilate traditional values because they make sense rather than because their parents tell them to. The real danger of repeatedly pushing this issue under the carpet is that diseases like AIDS can sneak up on an entire population unawares and when the “authorities” decide to do something, it is usually too late.
Questions on morality are all well and good but what has an effect at the end of the day is practical action that reaches out to the masses and ensures that correct information is disseminated. Attitudes, ideas and environment are formed on a platform of information and only then can a nation begin to fight this scourge.