Immediate mitigation measures needed – Dr. Mallikarachchi

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Dr. Darshanie Mallikarachchi, a specialist in the National STD/AIDS Control Programme, said according to statistics, there is an increase in HIV infections this year compared to previous years.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, she said it is a situation that requires immediate attention.

“By the end of March this year, the total number of cases found in Sri Lanka was 4,556. Last year, 410 HIV infected people were reported and 244 cases were reported in the first five months of this year. More than 80 per cent of these HIV infected people are aged 20-49. We should also be particularly concerned about the way HIV is spread between women and men. According to Sri Lankan data, the ratio is one woman to seven men,” she said.

She said, it is very important for the public to be aware of this situation.

She also emphasised that men, especially, should practice safe sex and take steps to prevent STDs.

“In addition to AIDS, there is an increase in gonorrhoea infections. This is as a result of risky sexual behaviour. This situation is also very dangerous,” Dr. Mallikarachchi said.

Ceylon Today also queried about the performance of the condom dispensers installed by the National STD/AIDS Control Programme. She said most of them are unserviceable.

“The condom dispenser was set up with the full support of the National STD/AIDS Control Programme. We identified places where high-risk groups mingle and placed them there. For example, we identified places such as railway stations, public toilets, Tri-Forces camps, etc. We received the help of non-governmental organisations and addressed each person and identified those at risk. It is very valuable to receive the support of such organisations, because in some cases, as doctors, we have obstacles to approach the community. Therefore, we implemented the programme by contacting the personnel of those NGOs as field officers,” she added.

She said due to the present crisis, the programme has stalled to some extent.

“These devices are not condom machines like those in India. They are like plastic containers. Many of them are broken. Empty containers cannot be refilled due to the fuel crisis. Those placed at railway stations like Fort and Nugegoda are also similar. However, we did not get the permission from the Maradana Railway Station. Even under this condition, efforts are being made as the National STD/AIDS Control Programme to restore them.”

According to data of the National STD/AIDS Control Programme, 3,263 of the total infected persons are male and 1,293 are female. Among those aged 15-24, eighteen are men and one is a woman. A total of 14 deaths have been reported.

According to the above data, it appears that most of the reported infected people are men, and there is a higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases among them.

The condom vending machines mentioned above were first placed by The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, a non-governmental organisation based in Colombo. We queried about the functionality of those machines.

“First of all, we took this step. We installed a condom vending machine in our organisation premises at Bullers Lane, Colombo 7. At the same time, we placed them in several other places. But after they were disabled during the pandemic, they have not been reactivated. Almost a year has passed. The condom vending machine placed in Town Hall also does not function. So, none of the machines in our office are working,”they said.

Meanwhile, there has been a spike in STD infections among ‘beach boys’ and commercial sex workers. It is reported that condom usage among ‘beach boys’ is relatively lower than commercial sex workers. Therefore, the increase in STD transmission among them is common knowledge. This can be observed in districts like Galle, Matara, and Batticaloa.

According to the National Health Statistics Reports (NHSR), the percentage of women and men aged 15-44 who used a condom ‘every time’ they had intercourse in the past 12 months decreased with older age. The percentages were 35.6 per cent and 53.5 per cent among those aged 15-19 and 10.9 per cent and 9.4 per cent among those aged 35-44 for women and men, respectively.

It can be assumed that people are afraid to buy a condom and the social stigma associated with it may have contributed to the decrease in these numbers. The absence of regular sex education in Sri Lanka has also led to the spread of HIV.

By Sahan Tennekoon