1 Dec, 2011
1st December 2011 marked World AIDS Day. Even after 24 years of the first HIV case reported in Sri Lanka, there are still many unaware of basic facts relating to HIV and AIDS.
* Currently in Sri Lanka, an HIV case is reported every 2.7 days. The actual number of infections may be significantly higher because HIV and AIDS are associated with considerable stigma and as a result go unreported.
* According to UNAIDS, at the end of 2010, an estimated 34 million people were living with HIV worldwide, up 17% from 2001. Of that, an estimated 4 million is in South and South East Asia. Although the rate of HIV prevalence is substantially lower in Asia than in some other regions, the absolute size of the Asian population means it is the second largest grouping of people living with HIV. Meanwhile, 1.8 million people have died from AIDS-related causes in 2010.
* A person’s HIV status can be determined through a simple blood test that can be carried out by any Government STD clinic located island wide (free of charge) or a private lab in complete confidentiality.
Under the John Keells HIV and AIDS Awareness Campaign launched in 2005, Master Trainers from the John Keells Group, as well as doctors from the National STD/AIDS Control Programme of the Ministry of Health have joined hands in the immense task of spreading awareness on HIV and AIDS, particularly among the working population of the Island, given that the virus is most prevalent among those aged 15–59 and hence considered a threat to the economic and social well-being of the country.
John Keells Group, under its CSR arm, John Keells Foundation, is the first private sector company in Sri Lanka to embark on HIV and AIDS awareness creation among varied communities including businesses, hotels, armed forces, prisons and educational institutions. The ways in which the virus spreads and could be prevented, the ways in which the virus cannot be transmitted and the care and support needed by the infected and the affected are covered under the awareness sessions of the John Keells programme. Awareness sessions were first conducted among the staff of the John Keells Group, and gradually extended to include other organizations, both private and public. The programme has to date educated more than 38,000 persons across Sri Lanka – the highest number of persons educated on HIV and AIDS by a private sector entity in Sri Lanka.
In 2010, John Keells Holdings announced a Group-wide adoption of an HIV and AIDS Workplace Policy in the lead up to World AIDS Day 2010, marking the first recorded Group-wide roll out by a Sri Lankan conglomerate. As a lead up to the adoption of the Policy, a comprehensive action plan was implemented including the formation of enterprise-based HIV and AIDS Workplace Committees, training of Master Trainers, and the holding HIV and AIDS awareness sessions for all staff. Accordingly, there are a total of 19 enterprise-based Workplace Committees to educate all employees of the John Keells Group on a continuous basis.
John Keells’, most significant partnerships are with the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) and the Sri Lanka Army, raising awareness about HIV and AIDS among large numbers of the nation’s security forces. In the past seven months alone, 2060 SLAF personnel have been impacted through these awareness sessions. Similarly, 3740 Army personnel have also been educated throughout the country. These awareness sessions have been conducted in camps based in various parts of the country including Anuradhapura, Koggala, Colombo, Ampara, Trincomalee and Vavuniya. “This programme has succeeded in changing attitudes toward HIV and AIDS through awareness raising. It would be best to spread this knowledge in the armed forces”, commented Airman W.Wijeratne following an HIV and AIDS awareness session conducted by John Keells Master Trainers at the Sri Lanka Airforce Base in Mirigama on 17th November 2011.
The contribution of the employees of the John Keells Group plays a key role in the success of the HIV and AIDS Awareness Campaign. Currently, there are approximately 50 trained master trainers attached to 19 HIV and Workplace Committees located in businesses across the Group enabling them to reach out to organizations and communities in various parts of the country. One such active master trainer is Ivan Perera, Security Manager at Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana who has conducted over 60 awareness sessions impacting over 13,000 people including members of the Sri Lanka Army and ex-LTTE combatants in rehabilitation camps. On 4th August 2011, team Cinnamon Lodge marked their 50th awareness session at the Army Training School, Pompemadu, Mannar. The event also marked the double milestone of 10,000 persons educated by the committee since the establishment of the Workplace Committee in 2009.
The John Keells Group is committed to contain the spread of HIV to ensure that it remains in its current ‘low prevalence’ status in Sri Lanka in keeping with the National Policy as well as the Millennium Development Goals. In this respect the Group firmly believes that education is the key to prevention of the spread of HIV and to enable persons living with HIV to continue their livelihoods through an effective HIV and AIDS Workplace Programme and Policy. The Group encourages interested parties to contact John Keells Foundation to hold awareness sessions for the benefit of their members.