Increase in the number of drug addicts who are infected with HIV was reported in the first months of this year. The jump was within 50 per cent compared with last year and NGOs expect their number will reach one thousand by the end of the year. Second in the ranking are the so-called MSM, or men who have sex with men, where the increase in the number of new cases of infection is constant.
"There is something positive in this otherwise alarming statistics. More people have made tests to find and describe these cases, which is good. Mobile stations have contributed significantly, as the tests are made with saliva rather than blood sample and the results are quick," said the President of the Praksis NGO Dzanetos Antipas.
At the same time, particularly disturbing is the fact that the percentage of people who can not indicate how they were infected has increased. "About 30 per cent of the virus carriers in Greece do not know they are carriers. The new infections are caused precisely by them," said the chairman of the union of infected in Greece Nikos Dedes. "The survey results show that the statements of the Minister that the infection is transmitted from immigrants are a myth. The percentage of infected foreigners living in Greece remains unchanged over the years and is around 20 per cent. Of these, only about 30 per cent came from Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, many of them are exposed to the virus here; they have not transmitted it from their homelands."
Representatives of NGOs involved in the Commission for Social Dialogue at the Centre for Prevention of Infectious Diseases agree that the Greek governments have taken few steps against the spread of AIDS. "The national strategic plan was adopted much later, even compared to neighbouring Balkan countries, not to compare with Western Europe. However, the main problem lies in the fact that even the measures planned in it are not applied. There are services that actually work, but it is not enough," said the Commission President Grigoris Valianatos.
The bad economic situation in Greece inevitably has affected the medical care of HIV-positive in the country. Unemployment is rising and with it, the number of those infected with HIV, who are losing their insurance rights and remain without drugs. "The problem with foreigners is very serious too as they are hospitalised only if their condition is very serious. Now even the test is not free, because the people pay 5 euros for each visit to the hospital. The amount is not large, but it should be quite clear whether the test is free and anonymous, as enshrined in the Greek and European legislation," said Marianela Clocka from the union of HIV-positive.
According to representatives of NGOs, the sharp rise in the number of addicts who have been infected with the AIDS virus is because the programs for distributing free syringes were suspended. "At the moment, only the Organization against Drugs Okana exchanges the syringes. They are a few and the bureaucratic work is quite huge. As a result, drug addicts are waiting several hours a day or are even being forwarded to the next day. Then, they give up and use the first syringe they find."
Nikos Dedes from the HIV-positive union Orotetiki foni (positive voice) reported that at the last international congress in Rome the medical community has indicated that the people taking antiretroviral therapy can not transmit the virus. "It, along with the highly active antiretroviral therapy, which is used in people who have had suspicious sex or doubts that they have been infected in another way could limit the spread of the virus," said Dzanetos Antipas.
Another issue that GRReporter covered some time ago is providing normal conditions for pregnant women carriers of the virus to give birth. "In the maternity hospital "Elena Venizelou" there is an informal sector for them and there were born eight quite healthy children so far. In fact, we are talking about a room with one bed, but this is still something. However, the problems are far from resolved. We recently received a complaint from a woman who went to give birth in one of Athens hospitals. They told her from there that they were not on duty and forwarded her to "Elena Venizelou" without providing her with ambulance. The woman arrived at the maternity hospital by bus, because she had no car, and taxi owners were on strike at that time. The doctors there took her and offered her anti-retroviral therapy, which should take place three hours before giving birth in order to limit the possible infection of the baby by the mother. However, the woman gave birth in a natural way an hour and a half later and now we do not know whether the child is infected, because the baby is still very small. If the tests confirm our fears, the doctors would be responsible, said Elena Yama.
NGOs have drawn attention to the prejudices and stereotypes against HIV-positive, who often come from the doctors. In the case of the woman, the anesthesiologist on duty said, "do not give priority to the HIV-positive." In the case of an African who lives in Greece 20 years and has Greek citizenship, things are even more absurd. The man is forced to travel to Athens every day, because he has to undergo haemodialysis. The hospital in the town where he lives refuses to make the procedure there, justifying the refusal by the fact that there is no separate room for HIV-positive patients. "The nurse will need to wear a spacesuit to protect from possible infection" was the "competent" response by the head of the nephrological clinic of the hospital. In another conversation with a social worker, he said that because during the haemodialysis the patient's blood is outside his body, "if the fistula needle pops out, the room will be filled with infected blood and this will cause panic."
Serious are the problems faced by HIV-positive on their jobs. Many companies subject all employees to mandatory testing in violation of the law, as this should be done only with their consent. The typical example is of a participant in a television show, who was tested without being warned and subsequently forced not to participate in the show.
According to NGOs, the introduction of a class in sexual education in the schools is mandatory in order to inform the children about AIDS and other infectious diseases. "We know that there is a textbook that is not approved by the ministry, most likely because of barriers of the Church."
They believe that despite the crisis, even the few resources that are allocated could lead to the desired result, provided they are used wisely.
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