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Mega AIDS meet begins in Colombo

Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse inaugurates the country’s biggest ever international conference in Colombo, reports Sanchita Sharma.

health and fitness Updated: Aug 21, 2007 01:04 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse inaugurated the country’s biggest ever international conference in Colombo on Sunday. With 2,500 delegates from 70 countries, the 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) had almost everyone in the city, from taxi drivers to souvenir-shop owners, sporting the red ribbon.

Sri Lanka has the lowest HIV prevalence in the region — only 0.02 per cent of its population is estimated to be HIV positive. Data shows that of the 20 million people living in Sri Lanka, 5,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS.

That, combined with 1.5 million migrants and a sexually-active youth population, does not allow us to put our feet up,” says Athula Kahandaliyanage, secretary, ministry of healthcare and nutrition.

The conflict situation is the biggest threat to the country’s health programmes. “What saves us is the high literacy rate (95 per cent) both among men and women in the country, which has made health-seeking behaviour very high. Filling vacancies in the conflict areas is a priority and we have plans to do so by the end of the year,” says Kahandaliyanage.

There are 5.4 million people living with HIV in the Asia Pacific region, which accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s population. “Low national prevalence often disguises high prevalence in some districts and communities. Though the overall prevalence is low and 99 per cent people are not infected, some countries such as Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have pockets of high infection,” says Deborah Landey, deputy executive director, UNAIDS.