News & Media

Aitken Spence
Media & News

Sri Lanka’s Challenge- From Low to Zero

As the world prepares for the 20th anniversary of the declaration of World Aids Day on the 1st of December, we in Sri Lanka are still battling with the social taboos of HIV/AIDS.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus was first brought to the forefront in the early 1980s and spread rapidly the world over. The origins of the virus are steeped in controversy with many believing that the virus first originated amongst the primates of Africa.

Simply put, the presence of the virus brings about Acute Immunodeficiency Syndrome, and sufferers are subject to a depressed immune system. With an inability to fight disease, the body is bombarded with various infections and cancers that are ultimately fatal.

Although the incidents of AIDS have been reported to be low in Sri Lanka, figures can not be confirmed as social taboos prevent testing and the accurate reporting of cases. Current statistics reported on the UNAids website shows that, in Sri Lanka, there are, on average, about 3,800 people living with HIV with an average of less than 500 deaths due to AIDS. The good news is that this shows Sri Lanka to be a very low prevalent country with an incident rate of 0.03%. However, with lack of knowledge and inappropriate behaviours, numbers in Sri Lanka could sky rocket. An increase in numbers of HIV incidents in Sri Lanka would, as is the case in Africa, affect businesses and the economy.

Of high importance is to break social mindsets to accept and openly discuss the disease and proper social behaviour to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

With access to some of Sri Lanka’s HIV/AIDS high risk areas, such as rural areas and plantations, Sri Lankan corporates play an important role in addressing the preventative needs of the nation. Working together with national programmes on HIV/AIDS, it is possible for businesses to reach people from all walks of life and delicately open the Sri Lankan mindset to being more accepting of the presence of the disease, and promote safe behaviours.

One method of reaching the masses is the formation of peer groups within companies so that employees, as well as family members or local communities could discuss the current issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. Moving away from the social taboo that it now is, clinics and companies should work together to encourage the active testing for the disease and ensure follow up sessions that could include counselling sessions.

Working with institutions such as the Employers Federation of Ceylon and the International Labour Organisation, allow corporates to approach their employees with tailor-made programmes that highlight the most important issues of HIV/AIDS. A number of peer groups have been set up through these institutions across various industries such as the tourism industry and plantations. The cascading flow of information has enlightened not just employees but also local communities, thus creating a greater awareness amongst Sri Lankans.

Taking stock of the situation, Sri Lanka’s mission should be to move from a low prevalence zone to a zero prevalence zone. It is important to stress, however, that this is not possible without educating young adults and workers.

A Bayley
The writer is a member of the corporate sustainability team at Aitken Spence PLC.