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Sri Lanka: Number of young people living with HIV increasing
The number of young people living with HIV in Sri Lanka increased sharply between 2009 and 2013. Young people aged 15 – 25 now account for 20 percent of all those living with HIV in the country, compared to just 5 – 6 percent in 2009. As a result, health officials have called for greater programmatic emphasis on this at-risk group to help curb the HIV epidemic in the country.
Sri Lanka is considered a low prevalence country for HIV, with an estimated 4,200 people living with HIV. However, the epidemic is largely concentrated among several key affected populations – notably sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users, and now young people. Alarmingly, Sri Lanka has seen an increase in new infections year on year among all of these groups, a phenomenon that has been attributed to a lack of knowledge and awareness of HIV.
Despite the Sri Lankan National HIV Strategic Plan citing that young people need to be aware of HIV before they become sexually active, there is minimal data to verify that this is happening. In fact, safe sex education is not included in the national curriculum – Milinda Rajapaksha, Director of the National Youth Services Council stated: “building awareness is the best way to curb the spread, and what better places than in the schools to do this, since we have 90 percent of our children going to at least primary schools.”
To target young people, a new National Youth Policy will be released next month, which will recommend that young people be recognised as a special group for which interventions need to be tailored accordingly. It is hoped that this will make implementation of health policies relating to young people in Sri Lanka targeted and more effective.