Czech Republic's relatively good AIDS statistics working against it

AIDS specialists in the Czech Republic are ringing alarm bells: the number of people infected with HIV is slowly but steadily increasing with every passing year. At the same time, prevention campaigns are proving less and less effective: people are simply not listening.

In the first six months of this year the National AIDS laboratory registered 64 new HIV-infected patients. Since there were only 90 new cases registered last year there is reason to fear that for the first time ever the number of newly infected patients in the course of a year will cross over into three digit figures. Specialists are ringing alarm bells -but it seems that the vast majority of young Czechs are simply not listening. Young people today have a greater fear of bird-flu, mad cow disease or a terrorist attack than they do of AIDS. Dr. Marie Brusckova is an AIDS specialist at the National AIDS laboratory.

"There's a lot being done in terms of prevention - but people don't pay attention. They read about it, they hear the message but they don't heed the advice personally which is bad because in our country AIDS is transmitted primarily through sex."

The problem is that the overall statistics for the Czech Republic are relatively good: the overall number of HIV infected patients is 891, of those 202 have developed AIDS and 121 have died. Specialists admit that compared to west European states - and in particularly countries to the east of our borders where AIDS has become a serious problem- the Czech Republic is doing relatively well. It could even be considered a safe haven. However that could prove to be its downfall. Sex therapist Radim Uzel says that the manner in which these statistics have been presented in the past has done a great deal of harm and is a potential danger.

"People say that it is nothing/not a problem/, that in the Czech Republic the situation is so good that one can have unprotected sex. I think there is a grave danger in saying how good the situation is in the Czech Republic compared to other European states."

AIDS specialists say that the number of HIV infected people in the Czech Republic could be up to five times higher than official figures suggest and are now looking for ways to jolt the public into renewed awareness of the problem. The city of Prague, where half of all HIV infected patients are registered is a prime target, but Dr. Bruckova says that in one way or another the message must reach every town and village in the country. Moreover - it must be something that will make young people sit up and take notice. Dr. Bruckova again:

"Printed materials are useless - they don't read the stuff. It is better to use the media, TV documentaries, TV spots and so on and so on. But that is costly, of course."