World AIDS Day
AIDS sprang upon an unsuspecting
world more than two decades ago. Since then, the Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has claimed the lives of more than 30
million people around the world. Forty million people live with
the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which eventually causes
full-blown AIDS. More than 15,000 people are infected with HIV
globally each day.
This year’s world AIDS Day (December 1) theme is Leadership:
Stop AIDS. Keep The Promise.” This is in fact the 20th World
This year’s theme is very relevant as the world requires
leadership to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. It can be a
simple gesture such as a nationally recognised person being
tested for HIV/AIDS.
That sends a powerful message to the entire community that
being tested for HIV and even being diagnosed as having it, is
not a factor that one should be ashamed of.
Sri Lanka is a good example for correct leadership in the
sphere of health. Our healthcare systems are among the best in
the world - the First World included - and Government and
NGO-sponsored programmes on HIV/AIDS have had the desired
In addition, religious, cultural and social norms in our
society mean that Sri Lanka has been able to maintain a very low
rate of HIV prevalence. The political and civil society
leadership should strive to keep it that way.
One alarming factor is that many young persons in Sri Lanka
do not have a proper awareness of sexual health. This could lead
to dangers such as AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Proper leadership is needed to eradicate ignorance on sexual
health. Sex education is vital to save the younger generation
from the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
Third world countries should take the leadership in urging
the global pharmaceutical industry to provide cheaper anti-AIDS
drugs and also to develop a vaccine. There are some top-notch
university research centres in the Third World which can help in
the campaign to develop a vaccine.
With the poorest countries having the largest numbers of
HIV/AIDS sufferers, an international effort must be made to
supply generic AIDS drugs at affordable rates. Rich countries
must extend their fullest cooperation to the developing world to
fight the AIDS scourge.
Young people and women are the two major high-risk groups. It
is not very difficult to comprehend why they face a greater AIDS
risk. Social inequalities and injustices put them in the path of
AIDS. In the case of women, they bear the brunt of poverty. They
are also subject to sexual violence and abuse.
They are also more likely to stay away from education in
poverty-ridden countries, thus compounding their ignorance on
health matters, including AIDS. Even marriage does not offer
protection - in some heavily-infected countries, married women
have higher rates of infection than their unmarried peers.
As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon says in his World AIDS
Day message, it is a social issue, a human rights issue and an
economic issue to resolve which the entire world should get
together. It is essential that everyone can access HIV
prevention, treatment, care and support, no matter whether they
are rich or poor.
HIV/AIDS has been with us for well over 20 years, but the
stigma surrounding AIDS patients is still a major problem. Even
though it is well known that HIV/AIDS is not spread by casual
contact, many would not dare to go near a AIDS patient or grant
Overcoming stigma remains one of the biggest challenges. The
world needs guidance and leadership to eradicate this stigma.
All countries should also leadership to stick by the 2010
date for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and
support. This was a pledge by all Governments in the UN system.
With only two years left for 2010, the time for action is now.
As the slogan of this year’s World AIDS Day proclaims, they
should Keep the Promise to Stop AIDS. A world without HIV/AIDS
would not be far away if there is a global consensus on
eradicating this silent killer.