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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2429

Know your status to end AIDS by 2025

By Manjari Peiris

The World Aids Day falls on 1st of December and the National STD/AIDS Control Programme (NSCAP) has organized events to raise awareness on Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, commonly known as AIDS, and to remember those who died due to AIDS.

People fear for these two entities, though today they could be controlled due to extensive research conducted on both the virus and the disease. HIV/AIDS is contracted mainly due to unprotected sex and it could also be contracted from blood transfusions, sharing needles and syringes for illicit drug abuse and from an infected mother to her child, if untreated. Sri Lanka is heading towards eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV and Syphilis and from blood transfusions.

Dr. Iresh Jayaweera, (MBBS, PG. Dip. MD) from the World AIDS Day organizing team of the NSCAP, explaining about the events to take place in this regard; " The main activity will be the World Aids Day Walk with the participation of around 3000 people representing various institutions and the walk will be started on 1st of December, at 9.00 am, from the front lawn of the Colombo Municipal Council and to end at the BMICH. The National Programme would commence at 10.00 am at the BMICH and the Chief Guest at this event would be the Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Mr. Chamal Rajapaksa.

The theme for this year is 'Know your status to end AIDS by 2025’, suggesting everybody to test themselves for HIV/AIDS. "

“Anyone engaged in unprotected sex can be at risk of getting the disease and many of those diagnosed with HIV have got it from their regular partner. But the risk is zero if it is a mutually monogamous relationship in which both partners are free of HIV." said Dr. Iresh Jayaweera. According to him, in Sri Lanka it is estimated that around 3500-4200 people are infected with HIV. But only two thirds of them know that they have HIV. Others are in the community. If they don’t test themselves and find out, it will lead to the AIDS stage which has a high risk of mortality. It is important to find out one’s HIV status by testing, since people with early HIV infections are asymptomatic and only a blood test can detect HIV.”

He further said; "If all the people with HIV in Sri Lanka are diagnosed and started treatment, their Viral Load in blood will be undetectable after about 6 weeks of treatment. In other words, if there is an undetectable viral load, the risk of infecting someone is almost zero. This will help to prevent and control new infections."

The world is proceeding towards eliminating AIDS, and Sri Lanka has also fast tracked its response to this goal. It is only possible, if you diagnose 90 percent of people living with HIV(PLHIV).

There had been 310 patients reported to NSACP up to October 2018, the highest recorded over the years. It is mainly due to upscale of testing activities by the NSACP and its partners. Naturally if you do more tests you detect more.

Recently NSACP has introduced a rapid blood test which gives you accurate results within 20 minutes by using only a small drop of blood from a finger prick. It’s now so simple just like you check your blood sugar.

According to the guidelines laid by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Sri Lanka starts treatment for all adults and adolescents with HIV immediately regardless of their CD4+ cell count. Anti-Retroviral (ARVs) are a group of drugs that inhibit different steps in the HIV replication process revolutionized the HIV/AIDS management. ARVs have been consistently proven to reduce death due to HIV/AIDS and to reduce the development of AIDS-defining conditions. It should be noted that the treatment is lifelong.

“Unlike other conditions getting diagnosed with HIV involves a heavy dose of counselling and education to the patients,” he further said. “It is continued throughout the care spectrum. So that the PLHIV are well aware about the treatments available and their treatment regimens, their effectiveness and how to adhere to the treatment plan. We also inform the public that effective treatment is available free of charge.”

“Herpes simplex Virus,Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Human Papilloma Virus and Human T-Lymphotropic Virus are several other sexually transmitted diseases,” Dr.Jayaweera added. Herpes simplex virus is the number one sexually transmitted disease in Sri Lanka. About 4000 HSV patients annually reported to government STD clinics. Patients with HSV present with recurrent painful genital ulcers.

“Hepatitis B and C virus infects the liver and they can present with Jaundice when severe. These conditions can also lead to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma of the liver. Various treatment options are available. Hepatitis B can be easily prevented by vaccination.”

According to him, the Human Papilloma virus cause genital warts and cervical and penile cancers in addition to other complications and once infected it is difficult to eliminate from the body. On the other hand, the Human T-Lymphotropic Virus is very rare in Sri Lanka and they can lead to Neurological disorders. Out of these conditions it is possible to cure Hepatitis B and C with continuous treatments.”

It is well known that contracting HIV is associated with a lot of stigma. This stigma keeps many of those with HIV preventing from seeking treatment. “The National STD/AIDS Control Programme (NSCAP) has a well-established system to ensure the confidentiality of our patients,” Dr. Jayaweera said. He continued. “Even for the health care workers the information will be available on a need-to-know basis for the further care of patients. The staffs enrolled are trained at the enrolment as well as by refresher training programmes to tackle confidentiality issues, stigma and discrimination. These are walk in clinics and no referral is needed. Patient identification is not mandatory to seek treatment. In addition to that, there is a number system instead of using their names. Only the caring physician and his or her team have access to information.”

“We are proud to say that spreading awareness on safer sex methods has been a success,” he further said. “We have been doing it in collaboration with the Family Planning Association which is our main stakeholder and its success is evident with Sri Lanka still being a low prevalence country for HIV, in which less than 2 out of 10,000 people have HIV. The estimated total number of infections remains static over the years. A recent bio-behavioural survey done by the Ministry of Health showed high levels of condom use even among high risk populations for HIV acquisition such as commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men. About 10 percent of newly diagnosed HIV patients belonged to youth age group who are school leavers. It is difficult to introduce education about barrier methods to youth due to various societal factors.” Dr. Jayaweera concluded.

- Asian Tribune -

Know your status to end AIDS by 2025
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