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Aids conference turns spotlight on prevention

The International Aids Conference is taking place in Thailand

(Keystone)

Swiss researchers are presenting a study on attitudes to condom use at the International Aids Conference, which started in Bangkok on Sunday.

The team from the Aargau college of applied sciences say their findings could influence future Aids prevention campaigns in Switzerland.

The researchers are in Thailand with a delegation from the Federal Health Office and the Swiss Aids Federation, and two representatives of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Around 17,000 delegates from 160 countries are attending the biennial conference, which is being held under the theme “access for all”.

The study, led by Daniel Gredig, questioned 982 Swiss heterosexual men aged 25 to 65 about their views on condom use.

It set out to show that a man’s perception of his body and what was good for it was an important factor when it came to deciding whether to wear a condom.

“Our theory was confirmed,” Gredig told swissinfo.

The survey found that a man’s regard for the needs of his own body took precedence over concern for what his partner might expect of him.

The fact that a partner’s expectations counted for so little in Switzerland came as a surprise, said Gredig, since this had been shown to be very important in other parts of the world.

Prevention efforts

Gredig said the survey results could have an impact on efforts in Switzerland to prevent the spread of HIV.

While information about HIV and its transmission was very important, it was also vital to recognise that different mentalities existed, and to take these into account, he added.

“You have to rethink prevention work,” he said.

“You have to produce new messages of prevention that are tailored specifically to different groups of men – and that’s not old or young or better or less educated, but centred on the different types of mentality.”

Gredig said the researchers had chosen to focus on heterosexual males as a “forgotten group” in the fight against Aids.

Statistics from Switzerland and other parts of Europe show that there has been an increase in HIV transmission among heterosexuals in recent years.

Access for all

The Bangkok Aids conference has been billed as “an international stocktaking of the access that infected and affected groups have to information, education, treatment and care”.

The focus is on improving access, particularly among women and young people.

Barbara Affolter, a spokeswoman for the SDC, said the international conference was very important for the exchange of experience and best practice in the fight against HIV/Aids.

“For the SDC, the fight against Aids is a priority in our development and humanitarian programmes.

“In our priority countries we try to strengthen the national health systems in order that they can take care of the sick and be active in [Aids] prevention,” she told swissinfo.

Stop Aids

The Federal Health Office and the Swiss Aids Federation said they would be sharing information with delegates about Switzerland’s Aids prevention projects, specifically the 2004-2008 national prevention programme and the Stop Aids campaign aimed at migrants.

In a report issued in advance of the conference, the United Nations Aids agency said that the number of people infected with the disease rose from 35 million worldwide to 38 million last year, with almost three million Aids-related deaths in 2003.

UNAids said combating the epidemic would require annual spending of $20 billion (SFr25 billion) by 2007 – four times today’s level.

swissinfo, Morven McLean

In brief

Swiss researchers have found that a man’s perceptions of his body are an important factor in the use of condoms.

They say Switzerland needs to rethink its prevention work, tailoring the message to suit different social groups.

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Key facts

The International Aids Conference in Bangkok runs from July 11-16.
About 17,000 delegates from 160 countries are expected to attend.
Switzerland is being represented by the Federal Health Office, the Swiss Aids Federation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
Latest figures show 38 million people worldwide have the Aids virus.

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