16 April 2008

I can tell a married woman

“I can tell a married woman living isolated at home that she can get infected with HIV/AIDSPrincey Mangalika

A stay at home wife who had never held a job Princey had no idea what AIDS was. Her husband a hotel worker had gone abroad to work for a German man in 1994. It was only after his return in 2000 that he fell seriously sick and a hospital test revealed he had AIDS. Ostracized and hounded by the villagers Princey found him after a three day search in a temple in Colombo crying hysterically. His mouth was burned from the poison he had taken and although doctors had fought to save his life he had died that day of poisoning.

When Princey’s house was set on fire by neighbours she took her two children and sought refugee with her parents. For her, the nightmare was not yet over. When finally she had her own HIV test, it showed she was positive.

She is now the President of the the Lanka Plus NGO formed to help HIV-positive people with the assistance and support of Dr. Kamalika Abeyratne who herself was infected with HIV virus from a blood transfusion.

When I finally came face to face with this remarkable lady she was more petite than in her portrait. Dressed in a white Kandyan saree and sporting the red aids ribbon badge, she had arrived after the opening ceremony of the exhibition.

It was a pleasure to talk to this confident, effervescent lady. Some of her thoughts and views are captured in this interview I did for the short film produced on the Mobile and Gallery exhibitions by Pathshala Institute of Photography, Bangladesh.

Q:Princey, tell me how you feel to see your portrait among all the others here?

Princey: If you look at all the photos here, most are living with HIV. There are no differences in the photos, all are alike, and I am amazed as to why society is so fearful about this [AIDS]

Q: In your opinion what message can this exhibition convey?

Princey: I feel that if the younger generation takes a closer look at these photos with a good awareness they will be terrified as this is not a disease that is visible externally. This I hope will make them conscious and wary of the dangers of unsafe sexual behaviour.

Q: How can we use exhibitions like this to really reach the young and convey the message?

Princey: If the message is passed on to the young generation by people like me it becomes much more significant because the society does not understand or know much about what HIV or AIDS is. They have only heard of AIDS and think AIDS patients are disfigured and ugly. So if programs are made using people like me living with HIV to convey messages they will be more successful. Maybe then it might become easy to find a solution to this problem.

Q: You are now willing to come out in the open and take this message. But the early days wouldn’t have been easy for you. Can you tell me how it was then?

Princey: When attention focused on my husband, he did not have any privacy or confidential rights. There was a breach of confidentiality by the minor employees of the hospital when we went to seek health care. Quite unnecessarily we had to face attacks and innumerable difficulties. This was hard and I suffered enough overcoming these hurdles. I have had to face every difficulty that life has to offer. So there is nothing new that can happen to me now. I have overcome these barriers and come a long way in life with patience and will power. I am happy about this. In future if there is anything I can do, I hope to do it well.

Q: How will you carry on with your work?

Princey: We have to give correct information to society about HIV and AIDS—what is HIV, what is AIDS, how it is transmitted and how it is not transmitted. Undoubtedly this message needs to go the younger generation. Till they marry youth needs to be cautious about their sexual behaviour or delay sex till marriage. Pre- marital relationships, sudden or casual relationships shouldn’t lead to sex. My advice to husbands and wives is to live life trusting each other totally – it is not enough one partner being the trusting one – the trust must be mutual.

11 April 2008

Lanka Plus, is the only registered HIV/AIDS positive people's forum of Sri Lanka, has commemorated for the first time in its thirteen years of story the World AIDS day at the Jinaratna Technical College in Hunupitiya, Colombo 02 at dusk on World AIDS Day.. Stigma and discrimination are still very strong in the country where the lack of awareness and accurate information is one of the main risks for the spreading of the epidemic.

"We would have liked to have commemorated the AIDS day much earlier, but people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) in Sri Lanka can't still speak up and share their experiences", affirmed T.W. Princey Mangalika, President of Lanka Plus, during the event.

More than 70 people joined Lanka Plus members during the event. UNAIDS, UNDP, ILO, National HIV/AIDS control programme and ActionAid, members of their Advisory Board, supported this first gathering

During the event, Lanka Plus presented an appeal to the Government of Sri Lanka, which aims "to share, not to challenge the on going HIV response in Sri Lanka, but to make it more effective and adequate for all citizens, particularly for the families who are infected and affected from the virus".

18 March 2008


The national response to AIDS

Nearly two decades since reporting its first HIV infection, Sri Lanka remains one of the few countries in this region with a low-level AIDS epidemic. There is considerable evidence that Sri Lanka is vulnerable to the development of concentrated AIDS epidemics. Female sex workers are found in most of the major towns and cities, and there are networks of men who have sex with men, who have multiple partners including paying clients. Sri Lanka has a high number of heroin users and although few of them currently inject drugs, if there were a substantial change in drug-use patterns to more injecting drug use, this would result in the increase in the number of people who are likely to be exposed to HIV. However, lack of information on all of these parameters makes it impossible to predict the potential size of concentrated AIDS epidemics in Sri Lanka.

The national response is coordinated by the National STD/AIDS Control Programme (Ministry of Health), which is responsible for planning, monitoring and provision of technical guidance, as well as some implementation at decentralized levels. Coordination in 2006 included support to a number of nongovernmental organizations, leaders of faith-based groups, and government departments and ministries, and collaboration with major private-sector initiatives.

Donors include the World Bank, eight United Nations (UN) agencies and the International Organization for Migration, all of which are represented in the UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS. The United States Agency for International Development has commenced a capacity-building initiative with selected nongovernmental organizations.

Renewed political violence in the north and east of the country continues to hinder capacity to work in those areas. The conflict has also reduced the opportunity for dialogue on issues of a sensitive nature, which is particularly detrimental to HIV prevention efforts for people whose behaviour put them most at risk, such as sex workers, men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users.

Major barriers to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support include:

• human resources, both in the medical establishment and within civil society, needed to improve the quality of and expand the response in clinical settings and in the community;
• stigmatization and discrimination, which discourage demand for counselling, testing and treatment;
• continuing very low coverage of targeted HIV prevention programmes for key people likely to be exposed to HIV (female sex workers and men who have sex with men).

Challenges and emerging issues facing stakeholders in 2007

• Formulation of the 2007–2011 National Strategic Plan should involve all stakeholders in a broad participatory process guided by the National STI /AIDS Control Programme.
• Prioritizing targeted interventions for people whose behaviour puts them most at risk of exposure to HIV, with the highest priority given to prevention efforts for female sex workers and men who have sex with men.
• Improving partnerships with engagement and encouragement of civil society and private-sector participation, with particular emphasis on capacity-building of nongovernmental organizations and the revitalization of civil society coordinating mechanisms and partnerships.
• Improving strategic information (including bridging information gaps) and establishing a monitoring and evaluation system. Information on people with high-risk behaviour is acutely needed to guide the local response.
• Access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services in conflict-affected areas.

16 March 2008


By the end of 2005, women accounted for nearly half of all people living with AIDS worldwide, and represent almost 60% of infections in sub-Saharan Africa. The impact of HIV on women is also growing in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and South and South-East Asia. Moreover, young women are several times more likely than young men to contract the disease through heterosexual contact. Worldwide, 62% of infected young people are girls, and that number soars to 77% in sub-Saharan Africa. A woman's vulnerability to the virus is attributable not only to biological differences, but also to deeply entrenched socio-economic inequalities that further compound her risk. Because 70% of the world's poor are women, women have fewer economic options. They are far more vulnerable because of absolute poverty to engage in transactional sex to pay for food, school fees and other necessities. They are also vulnerable to coercive or forced sex and often unable to negotiate condom use. One in three women world-wide have been affected by gender-based violence, but poor women are even more likely to be abused. Many women, particularly married women, cannot control the circumstances under which sex takes place. Research in several countries shows that for far too many young girls, the first sexual experience is coerced or forced. Married women are especially unable to negotiate sex or condom use with their husbands who may have extramarital partners. Some research indicates that married women are in fact more at risk for HIV than unmarried women because they are more frequently exposed to intercourse within marriage. HIV-positive women may transmit HIV to their children during pregnancy, in childbirth or through breastfeeding. Today, mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV is the primary mode of acquisition of HIV for the more than 2 million children living with HIV. While antiretroviral therapy significantly reduces the risk of MTCT of HIV, prevention coverage in the 30 African countries with the highest HIV prevalence is only 5 percent. As AIDS ravages families and communities, the burden of caring for ill family members rests mainly with women and girls - many of whom may be seriously ill themselves. A woman affected by HIV/AIDS is plunged further into poverty, losing the ability to provide for herself and her children. Combined with pervasive social stigma and the collapse of traditional family and support structures, HIV/AIDS is eroding the status of women in many countries.

16 February 2008


by Boniface Kinywa


The mention of your name, scares me out the darkness.
You crept in and swept our continent.
From North to South and from East to West
Thousands and thousands you've killed,
Spoiled the beauty of our continent curse no meaning to life
Yet you are no sacrifice.

AIDS do you have Mercy?


You are a deadly monster,
you've taken our fathers, mothers,
brothers and sisters, homes left full of grace,

Just because of Mr. Slim.
Others call me Mr. Kill me quick,

Scientists have gone to the moon,
made nuclear weapons,
yet you are no sacrifice.

AIDS, do you have mercy?

Dear brothers and sisters,
Friends and relatives,
Sons and daughters
And my loving parents,
Lend me your ears
And get this message right,
With your broken heart I am asking you,
Please take care of the youth,
Stop bad habits, be faithful to each other.
This monster never sleeps, there is no cure

For AIDS, oh AIDS, do you have mercy?

Boniface Kinywa

Boniface Kinywa is a 12-year-old AIDS orphan