There’s little to celebrate on World Aids Day this year as the HIV pandemic advances alarmingly in many countries.
Education campaigns are failing just about everywhere, with Switzerland no exception – the number of people infected with HIV jumped by 25 per cent last year.
Of the more than 42 million people infected with HIV worldwide, five million of them contracted the disease last year.
The United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, says governments are not committed sufficiently to the cause.
He has called on them to increase financial contributions to help fight HIV, which causes Aids.
“We’re not giving enough,” agreed Walter Fust, head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Switzerland - which last week committed itself to a four-year action plan to step up the fight against Aids - gives SFr4 million ($3 million) to the UN Aids fund each year.
The pandemic is most severe in Africa, where in some countries at least one in five adults is HIV positive. But the disease is also spreading rapidly in Asia, eastern Europe and the Caribbean.
With about 20,000 people infected with HIV, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of infection compared with other western European countries.
The number of newly diagnosed HIV infections was on the decline until 2001, when the figure shot up by more than 20 per cent.
“Every week 15 people in Switzerland find out they are infected with the virus, and two people die from the disease,” said Thomas Zeltner, director of the Federal Health Office.
In Switzerland, there is a clear trend of increased rates of infection among immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, he says.
Homosexual men also seem to have lost the awareness they once had about safe sex, with the rate of infection among gay men increasing by 37 per cent last year.
To tackle these problems, the health office is stepping up its prevention campaign, paying particular attention to the specific needs of its target groups.
Bars and saunas
Posters from Switzerland’s “Stop Aids” prevention campaign can now be found in bars, saunas and other places where male homosexuals meet each other.
Migrant workers, drug addicts and people involved in the sex trade are also being targeted.
The “Stop Aids” campaign, launched in 1987, continues to use new ideas and images to get its message across about promoting safe sex.
A poster from its most recent campaign reads: “A question for hotel managers: isn’t it time you started putting more than just a bible in your rooms?”
The government’s aim is also to prevent costs associated with Aids and HIV from spiralling out of control.
The medical bill for the 800 people newly infected with HIV in 2002 will run to about SFr16 million per year.
The number of people in Switzerland infected with HIV jumped by 25 per cent last year.
800 people contracted the disease last year.
20,000 people live with HIV in Switzerland.
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