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Charge of the needle pricking brigade

By Lalin Fernnado-December 21, 2015, 7:19


The Health
Minister, a dentist by profession, has
spearheaded a potentially massive
campaign to check the spread of HIV.
That this was broadcast on First
December, World AIDS Day was a
significant coincidence. His aim was to
subject around 300,000 students taking up their A levels and 100,000
undergraduates to compulsory HIV testing. The net would then spread to
include O level students and even members of clubs whoever they are. If
he does so, a washing of spears will surely follow. His leading the charge of
the needle pricking brigade has drawn no comments from either the
medical or education fraternity.
Whether this is ominous or humourous only time and they will tell.
However Rights Activists have protested mainly because it is to be
compulsory testing. Up to now the concerned authorities in a fortunate
nation that has had nearly total literacy, well educated, shrewd citizenry
have with much success contained this menace with non coercive
treatment and community based projects. Compulsion as in less fortunate,
superstitious, less literate lands is unnecessary. Could incarceration be
considered the next step?
What or who gave the voluble Minister the power or the right to order
anyone to be compulsorily pricked with a needle even if it is with the very
commendable objective to eliminate AIDS? Can the blood of anyone be
taken for any purpose whatsoever without the consent of the person
concerned? Will this not be a gross violation of law, justice, ethics and
fundamental rights in the absence of overriding health issues that could
affect national security? Taking leave of common sense appears not to
concern many. Maybe the Minster should also consult a lawyer quickly
before he charges to total disaster in the wrong direction as the Light

Brigade at Balaclava.
What will this Minister do if students and undergrads, which may, must
have and will have done so voluntarily, refuse to take the test if it is made
compulsory? Will it then be done by force like much that happens in
Saudi? Or will the defiant be punished by being deprived of the free
education guaranteed them? Will their parents, 80,000 each year, accept
this? Will undergrads and students in fee levying private institutions be
exempted? If so why?
What will the Minister do if the doctors revolt and the nurses refuse to take
blood from unwilling people Will they lose their jobs?
One must wonder whether the AIDS problem has suddenly reached
pandemic levels like Ebola in West Africa and even epidemic levels as in
almost all African especially sub Saharan countries that may require such
drastic remedial action. If it was so no student or other citizen would or
could object. However no such alarm has been raised by the health
ministry or the GMOA or the media. No one it appears, other than the
Minister, has any idea why he has targeted of all people the brightest
students in the country who presumably know best as to what has to be
done to protect themselves from AIDS or other afflictions. Is there an
unknown motive?
The Minister has been armed with statistics. Of the 2241 HIV cases in SL,
48 school children are living with aids, infected by their mothers. Thirteen
(13) AIDs cases were in the 15-19 age group, 7 in the 10-14 group and 71
in children under 9 years. So he targets not the mothers and mothers to
be as being vulnerable but their off spring. Another spasmodic reaction is
to have sex education as a compulsory subject for the GCE O level exams.
From the kick off itself one suspects no doctor or educationist has advised
him on this extra ordinary course of action. What has triggered this
concern? Should he not also suggest every university has a faculty for it
too considering his concern for university students? Has he their concerns
in view or some other agenda? Could humiliation of university students be
one? Will those in private institutions escape or be spared? What about
Night Clubs as opposed to sports clubs being targeted?
The National STD/Aids Control Programme (NSACP) and a former President
of the SL College of Venereologists Mr. G Weerasinghe assure the public

that SL is a low prevalence country meaning that the number affected are
below 1.5% in women and 5% among high risk categories. In SL
prevalence is 0.03%. In UK it is 0.19%; USA is 0.4% - 0.9%, India 0.3%
and Thailand 1.1% while South Africas 19.1% is below par for Africa. SL
has had a total of 2,241 cases since the first in 1987 of which 213 have
died including 26 last year and 21 up to September this year. Compare this
to dengue deaths. UK has had 103,700 cases. Thailand has had 20,000
deaths in 2013.In 2005 she had 40,000 deaths. Nigeria and South Africa
each has 200,000 deaths, India 130,000 deaths of 2.1 m affected with HIV
.What then is the compelling emergency or calamity that has activated the
Most susceptible HIV groups are sex workers, their clients, drug addicts,
beach boys, prisoners, long distance truckers, three wheel drivers and
foreign employed workers. Men having sex with men are the most
vulnerable and prolific group. Orphans and old people need special care.
What made the Minister side line them? Surely not ignorance?
NSACP has a good grip on the situation concentrating on prevention
including education, treatment and care. There has been massive
response in Batticaloa for example to their campaigns.
People know Anti retro viral (ARV) treatment can prevent transmission of
HIV as well as prevent it. In 2014, nearly 900,000 HIV tests were done. If
the Ministers scheme for a level and university students kicks off, 1.3 m
will have to be tested. Are the logistics for testing, including technicians
and country wide labs available? Will the ongoing programme that has
effectively brought AIDS under control, suffer from Ministerial expediency?
The worst affected HIV places are Colombo, Gampaha and Puttalam with
Kandy and Kurunegalla also contributing less significantly to the numbers.
Colombo is the epi centre for the spread of HIV. Why shouldnt the
Minister take on Colombo first, sparing no one? Charge of the Light
Brigade again?
Will these A Level and university targeted aberrations alone cost over Rs.
400 m as estimated by Don Manu in the Sunday Time on 13 Dec 15? Will
some friendly labs rake in a windfall? Manu asks what will happen if this
mass blood testing leads to some being infected due to misadventure by
sub standard quick buck makers? This often happens, has and will happen.

What are the Ministry resources to face a real rather than a hallucinated
emergency? Will he admit responsibility? What about the fate of the
infected persons?
It would appear that other pressing health issues like the state of
government hospitals, their facilities, general hygiene problems like
accumulating filth on the streets and in the public drains, collapsing
sewage and waste disposal measures, dengue, CKDu, TB, malaria, chronic
malnutrition, medical staff grievances etc dont figure prominently in his
While trotting out statistics that he like Sisyphus has laboured over, has he
missed the wood for the trees? Did HIV originate in SL? Or, like all the
horrible diseases that were gifted by the colonizers from the West, wasnt
this too, like VD, brought from abroad? No wonder the West is expected to
fund this programme. Shouldnt he instead start his testing first with all
foreigners especially those from the West (fawningly called International
Community) on arrival? Should diplomatic immunity apply? Should they be
prevented from entering SL if they refuse to take the Ministers tests as
they, even the Indians (2.1m HIV cases), surely will? And there is talk of
bridges linking them to us.
The Health Minister must be aware of foreign pedophiles, almost all
westerners, who haunt the beach resorts all over SL except Negombo
(where the clergy have done a brilliant job with their flocks). Will his teams
go into hotels (BBS will volunteer) in search of the concerned foreigners
and prick or stab them? During Christmas? Will Cameron throw a fit?
Maybe he should ask the Tourism and Finance Ministers to cooperate. Will
they go bonkers?
Effective measures in educating, testing, treating and interventions on
target groups have contributed to SL being commended by WHO in
2013.This thankfully despite a major conflict situation that existed for 26
years and a largely uncircumcised population. Does the Minister know the
situation in Cambodia that had terrible conflict for long years? What then is
the need for the Ministers panic? What really tickles him?
Should the Minister not take action to find out how children under 7 years
were infected and by whom, instead being carried away by labored
statistics? He should start doing something about that instead of harassing

hundreds of thousands as CBK would say?

People may well ask why all elected representatives of the people are not
tested first, just to set an example if nothing else. HIV is not a respecter of
persons. Legislators provide the public with never ending, spectacular tales
of indiscretions. They should be eager to take the tests whatever their
education standards, especially as almost all of them have said (after the
war of course) that they are willing to die for the country. Some die on the
battlefield others more comfortably. These deserving jabs may rekindle
heroic dreams.
Could the Minister be the first to set an example? Charity begins at home.
The public remembers.
Health ministers, who suddenly sally forth with messianic glee, waving
AIDS pennants and statistics to attack not windmills but fantasy HIV
fortresses, must be humoured. They have also to be tolerated.
Whatever the Minister does he should be assured that this was a
monumental you know what. SL cannot become a fascist state. No one can
be forced to have his or her body interfered with, without consent
especially when no national emergency exists. Amazingly this is under a
Yahapalanaya rule. Its credibility was questioned a long time ago. Now it is
its sanity that is in doubt.
Posted by Thavam