Mr. Sanath Jayasuriya, Captain of the Sri Lankan Cricket team, was recently appointed as the UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador in Sri Lanka by Dr. Peter Hybsier, Chairperson, UNAIDS.
Why did you wish to assume the role of Ambassador of Goodwill for UNAIDS?
When UNAIDS approached me in April 2000, asking whether I could accept the appointment of Goodwill Ambassador, I did not hesitate in saying yes. This is because the health of our nation is a subject that is very close to my heart. It is the duty of every citizen in this country to ensure that all people are healthy. I will do whatever I can to accomplish this goal. UNAIDS works for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in Sri Lanka. HIV/AIDS affects especially the young people of Sri Lanka. Most of the young people in Sri Lanka happen to be cricket fans. Therefore I think I can play the role of Ambassador of Goodwill.
How do you think you would be able to contribute towards the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS?
My team and myself are committed to play the game in a responsible manner. If we act with responsibility, it is very difficult for another team to beat us. Winning and acting with responsibility have a close connection. In a similar manner, preventing sexually transmitted diseases and responsible behaviour of men and women have a very close relationship. This is the approach of the message I want to convey to all young people in Sri Lanka. I believe I can contribute to the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS by spreading this message not only in Sri Lanka, but in other cricketing nations as well.
Which segment of society do you think you would be able to influence most?
I think I can influence all segments of society. When, we as Sri Lankans go into the playing field, we don't think of different segments of society. Everyone supports us in one voice. However, the segment I wish to influence most are young boys and girls, my fellow brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka. This is because the youth are the most vulnerable segment to contract HIV.
What is your message on prevention/control of HIV/AIDS to the men of Sri Lanka?
My message is simple: always act with responsibility when your are in a situation that could make you vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. I will elaborate in what I mean in the coming two years when I will be continuing as the Ambassador of Goodwill for UNAIDS.
What do you feel about people being discriminated against because they have been infected with the AIDS virus?
Discriminating against persons with HIV has no basis whatsoever. People act irrationally sometimes when they are scared. This is why people marginalise those who have deadly illnesses. There is no reason to marginalise HIV-positive people. They are just like us. You couldn't contract the virus just because they sit next to you. It is inhuman to discriminate against any group. If we do, the virus will go underground and public health officials will not be able to control HIV/AIDS. We have to protect the rights of the people living with HIV/AIDS.
In your opinion, what could the government do to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS?
Unlike other diseases, there is very little the government could do to prevent HIV/AIDS. Individuals must take the responsibility for their own health and should not engage in unsafe sex. Government institutions such as the Ministry of Education could strengthen their education programmes so that people know about the condition. Other non-governmental organisations should also play an active role in prevention by educating other vulnerable populations such as out of school youth, university students, the migrant worker community and the fishing community. Donor agencies should support our projects on prevention of HIV/AIDS. They should not relax simply because we have only 7,600 estimated HIV-positive cases in Sri Lanka.
How do you propose to spread this message?
I think I will have some influence on young people of all cricketing nations. I will be associating myself with HIV/AIDS prevention programmes that are organised in Sri Lanka to the best of my ability. Although I will not be able to be physically present for all of them, I am willing to give them my goodwill messages etc. I will also get the opportunity to make pronouncements on health promotion when I am covered by the national and international media. I hope my commitment would catalyse the efforts of others to prevent the spread of this disease in Sri Lanka and in the region.