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Two people a day are infected with HIV in Greece

02 December 2010 / 10:12:49  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The official statistical data show that the total number of carriers of HIV virus and sufferers of AIDS in Greece is 10,400 people to October 31, 2010. According to Dzanetos Antipas, President of the Praxis NGO, "the actual number of carriers of the virus is almost two times higher, i.e. we are talking about almost 25,000 people. This is the so-called ‘secret number’ of people living with HIV unaware of it or not announcing it. Complacency, which has established itself today as a key attitude towards the issue, is one of the main reasons for the spread of the virus. Recent research shows exactly that."

According to data that were presented after 2002, new cases of people infected with HIV increase every year. The number of announced cases has reached 653 in 2008. This is the second largest number of newly diagnosed people per million inhabitants in 10 years. The number of new cases in 2009 outnumbered 600 again. "This means that two new cases of infection a being reported per day. It is possible 650 new cases to be reported by the end of this year," said the NGO’s President.

The results from recent surveys conducted after 2005 show a serious increase in cases of infected men who have sex with other men. In most of the cases, the announced carriers of the virus are aged between 25-44 years, the largest number of men being aged 30-34, while women are at the age of 25-29 years. Two cases were reported a few months ago of virus transmission from mothers to their children. "This is a fact that made us ask why these women were not asked to be tested earlier," said Dzanetos Antipas.

"Our information campaign entitled Information, Prevention, Examination: Our motto for life, which began 10 days ago and will continue until 22 December, seeks to introduce, educate and engage the interest of young people at the age of 15 to 35 years," said the President of Praxis. Through different events the organizers aim to reach as many people as possible, even those who think that the problem is not of their concern.

Within the campaign the organization sends a van to places where men meet like the areas of Zapio, the train station, saunas and gay establishments in the district of Gazi, in which a quick test can be made. Particular attention is paid to immigrants, so all materials of the campaign as well as television and radio spots have been translated into 12 languages including Braille. Participation in the campaign is voluntary and it is worth noting that if it was organized by state institutions it would cost 1.3 million euros.

There was a pavilion on the Korai Square today where young people handed out leaflets containing information about AIDS and everyone could take a condom from the big board on which the condoms read the word AIDS. According to the organizers, older people are much more reserved than the young in such events. After the press conference, current series actors got involved in the campaign carrying posters that read Free hugs to show that carriers of the virus are in need of support. A procession was held a little later under the musical accompaniment of percussion instruments, which went through Omonia Square and to Tisio – places where men, looking for sexual partners of the same sex, gather. The participants handed out condoms and leaflets containing information about HIV.

According to Leonidas Vakerlis – representative of another NGO Center for Life – "many things have changed since 1981 when the first case in the country was announced but there are still many issues we have to deal with. These are tests, fear, secrecy, negative attitudes towards members of the gay community and not least the overturning of the model of bourgeois respectability. Once even the word AIDS stood as a lump in the throat. At the same time, we all know how many and what famous politicians, priests and professors are among those who lost their lives due to the disease."

He stressed that "we quickly pulled ourselves together and realized that this is no longer our neighbours’ problem but a matter of personal responsibility." Leonidas Vakerlis said that information and prevention are right "first of all the people and second of children in puberty and so there is the need for professionals and classes in health behaviour in the schools. This is the right to examination and the right to treatment that we require to apply for economic immigrants."

To meet this need, Janos bookstores in Athens and Thessaloniki sell the book My Life in Red, which contains texts written by 39 infected with HIV, mothers of infected, doctors, nurses and psychologists. "All these people related in some way with the disease wanted to share what they have experienced in one way or another. Only one immigrant decided not to write because he was afraid he might be recognized. However, when we invited them to come to the presentation of the book, they refused. Social stigma still exists," said the representative of the Greek society for studying and fighting AIDS Marios Lazanas.

He drew particular attention to the decision issued by the Supreme Court of Appeal, which justified a company that fired an employee because of carrying the AIDS virus and said that it is very important for the people to be informed promptly, because virus carriers become less infectious.

Tags: HIVAIDSGay communitiesPrejudicesInfectedSociety
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