AIDS figures at all-time high in Czech Republic but still lower than elsewhere

This Saturday marks World Aids Day, 26 years since the first case of HIV was discovered. The year 2007 has been the darkest for the Czech Republic so far, with the number of new HIV-patients for the first time exceeding one hundred. But despite the growing number of infected people the country still records one of the lowest figures of HIV-positive patients in Europe.

Last year the Czech national AIDS laboratory registered 93 new HIV-infected patients. By the end of October 2007, their number had already surpassed one hundred. The overall statistics are relatively good: the number of registered HIV infected patients to date is 1020. Of those, 230 people have developed AIDS and 130 have died. Experts warn, however, that in reality the number of HIV infected people may be as much as ten times higher. Petr Weiss is one of the countrie’s leading sex therapists:

“The real numbers are much higher than the official numbers, because many people don’t undergo the tests. But even if the real number of HIV-positive is ten times higher, for ten million inhabitants it is not so bad. In comparison with western countries or Ukraine, where they have half a million HIV-positive people, we don’t have such a high rate of HIV-positive patients.”

So what keeps the figures in the Czech Republic relatively low in comparison to its western and eastern neighbours?

“I think the reason for why the situation is relatively good here is that we don’t have intravenous drug users or we have only a few of them. In Western Europe, for example in Spain or in Switzerland, most of the HIV-patients are intravenous drug users.”

While the number of HIV-positive people is slowly but steadily increasing, the country is investing less than in previous years to battle the disease. Ten years ago, the government earmarked more than 66 million crowns for preventive and medical programmes; this year, it is only 20 million. Petr Weiss says money is important but what is more important is the way it is used:

“It is not only a question of money. We know that the big preventive campaigns targeted on the general population are not very effective. It would be much more effective to focus on high-risk communities. This is the future of the preventive programmes and these don’t need as much money. We prepare for example educational programmes for basic schools, because it is most important to start the prevention quite early. I hope that if we control sexual behaviour and needle-sharing among intravenous drug-users the figures may still rise, but not as dramatically as we expected.”