Panos South Asia holds Media Seminar on “HIV and Beyond” in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Panos South Asia’s Global AIDS Programme focusing on raising media awareness on HIV/AIDS held a seminar on the theme “HIV and Beyond” at the Sri Lanka Foundation, Colombo on March 28, 2008. Awards were presented to five journalists for their sensitive and analytical reportage on HIV/AIDS. Sakunthala Jayasinghe and Senarth Bandara Kulasekera (of Dinamina for Sinhala print), Shanthi Murugesu (of Thinakural for Tamil print), Chandana Kumara Marasinghe (of Lakhanda Radio for Sinhala Radio) and Lakshman Muthuthanthirige (of Ruapavahini for Sinhala Television) were the journalists selected for the media awards.
The event attended by journalists, international aid workers and academics, was held on March 28, 2008 at the Sri Lanka Foundation.
Princey Mangalika the president of Lanka Plus said that sensationalization of the issue of HIV and AIDS by the media as is often the case could hurt the sentiments of the people living with HIV and result in driving them away from society. This could adversely affect the preventive efforts against AIDS, opined Mangalika.
“Lanka Plus takes great efforts in seeing the spread of the disease is halted in the country. But when articles that sensationalize the issue or is discriminatory towards the people with HIV appear in the media this will contribute towards preventive action,” commented Mangalika. She further stated that Lanka Plus, the only registered organization of HIV positive people in Sri Lanka, is involved in carrying the messages across the country in protecting people from HIV in addition to caring and looking into the wellbeing of its membership.
Commenting on a recent newspaper article that mentioned there are over 600 HIV positive people in the Anuradhapura district, Mangalika said, “This is a total fabrication. This is total misinterpretation of the statistics. But what happened ultimately was that this particular article severely frightened the HIV positive people living in the (Anuradhapura) district. It made many of them go into hiding”.
“Media can and has to play a proactive role in educating the people of HIV and preventing them from getting infected. But this has to be done through harnessing the support of the people living with HIV and not at the expense of the sentiments of them. They too are human beings and have their rights and emotions as much as the others in the society do. Media has to be sensitive towards this” said Mangalika.
Lanka Plus was awarded a special token by the Panos Institute in appreciation of their untiring efforts in promoting media awareness on HIV across the country.
Dr. Nimal Edirisinghe, Director, National STD/AIDS Control Programme (NSACP) speaking at the event mentioned that Sri Lanka has been able to maintain a very low level of infection rate since the beginning of the epidemic. This is an exemplary situation in the world which is evidence of a congregated action of health as well as other social sectors in addressing the issue through many fronts mentioned Dr. Edirisinghe. Among many others, he mentioned the prescient act of forming the NSACP (in 1985) well before the first HIV positive person was found in Sri Lanka (1987) was another step in right direction. “Thus when the HIV started emerging in the country we were ready and organized to deal with the situation”, commented Dr. Edirisinghe.
Dr. Edirisinge in his speech also emphasised the need of addressing the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS, which he described as a key element in an effective control strategy. He acknowledged the greater role that needs to be played by the people living with HIV and the importance of their active participation in the national response.
Chief Guest, David Bridger, country coordinator, UNAIDS Sri Lanka spoke about the new trends of HIV infection in the Asian region. In 2007, there had been 5 million people living with HIV in Asia with 440,000 new infections and 300,000 deaths from AIDS related illnesses in Asia. Bridger pointed out unprotected commercial sex, injecting drug use and unprotected sex between men as the main reasons for HIV transmission in Asia. He also mentioned that though some of the best prevention programmes come from Asia, in general coverage of most vulnerable groups with prevention services are still low. While he stressed the importance of effective preventive programmes among the most-at-risk populations as central to halting and reversing the epidemic in Asia, based on the findings of the Independent Commission on AIDS in Asia of 2006 noted that there should be a shift in the focus of support from the NGOs to the CBOs in future.
Prof. Carlo Fonseka, the renowned medical educator and the member, University Grants Commission (UGC) speaking on the role of the media in HIV/AIDS reporting elaborated on the empirical and philosophical approaches to writing and demonstrated the importance for the journalists to adopt the philosophical approach when writing on issues related to HIV and AIDS. He pointed out the importance of journalists embarking on writing on these issues with compassion. Ms. Revathi Chawla of the UNDP regional office also spoke of the need of addressing stigma and discrimination through media. Giving an elaborative description as to why HIV and AIDS needs to be looked as a social problem, Dr. Chandani Liyanage, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Colombo spoke of the importance of acknowledging the cultural contexts in bringing about behavioural changes in health related events. “For health projects to be effective the cultural values, beliefs and practices of the targeted communities need to be thoroughly understood” commented Dr. Liyanage.
At this event Nest, Mass Media Forum and Sathmaga, a regional newspaper (from Uva Province) were also felicitated for their praiseworthy contributions in HIV/AIDS related communication.