On 15th June 2005, under the aegis of the Asia Pacific Leadership Forum (APLF) on HIV/AIDS and Development, and UNAIDS, Sarvodaya launched a new initiative to enhance religious leadership towards HIV/AIDS prevention, control and care in Sri Lanka. The objective of this new initiative is to develop the capacity of religious leaders belonging to the four main faiths practiced in Sri Lanka to understand and respond in a positive manner to prevent HIV/AIDS. The event was held at the Sarvodaya Nagarodaya Centre in Colombo and was attended by over 25 leading Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islamic clergy.
Even though Sri Lanka is considered a “low prevalence” country based on the estimated figure of 3500 HIV positive individuals in the country, due to the high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and many social factors contributing to risk behaviour amongst certain social groups as well as the society in general, there is an urgent need to mobilize all resources to arrest the spread of this disease at this stage. Sarvodaya has been involved in HIV/AIDS prevention activities since the late 1980s when the first person with the HIV infection was detected. In mid 1990s a pioneering programme by the Community Health Unit of Sarvodaya to mobilize the Buddhist monks towards HIV/AIDS prevention is hailed as one of the successful initiatives to use religion as a positive force to combat the disease.
This initiative supported by APLF is one of several projects to enhance national leadership towards HIV/AIDS prevention. The APLF is a leadership initiative agreed in 2001 at the first Asia Pacific Ministerial Meeting on HIV/AIDS by 33 countries in the region which is funded by the governments of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union. The APLF’s aim is to keep HIV at the top of regional and national agendas in Asia and the Pacific, to promote effective leadership and to intensify commitment at all levels. Dr.Vinya Ariyaratne, Executive Director of Sarvodaya is a member of APLF Advisory Committee in Sri Lanka.
This new project of Sarvodaya aims to train and mobilize over 200 Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islamic religious leaders, and lay youth leaders through a series of capacity building seminars and workshops. The project intends to develop innovative education material based on respective religious teachings and especially aims to address issues related to stigma and discrimination of persons living with HIV/AIDS.