Switzerland's health authorities fear the number of Aids cases may be on the rise again after a steady decline in recent years. According to the Federal Health Office, the increase for 2001 may be as high as 13 per cent.
The forecast is based on the number of new HIV cases registered so far this year. Since January, 443 people have contracted the HIV virus, 156 have developed Aids and 19 others have died of Aids-related illnesses.
In August alone, 56 people tested HIV positive, and 14 others were found to have Aids.
The Federal Health Office said the number of people tested positive for HIV could reach 660 by the end of the year if the current tendency persists. This would mean a 13 per cent increase compared with last year's figures.
The office also said the virus could infect more men than women, particularly among drug users.
"A small rise"
However, Susanne Matuschek, head of the health office Aids section, downplayed the figures.
"I would not say that at the moment, it's a dangerous trend," she said. "There is a small rise so we want to warn people again that they have to protect themselves."
According to Matuschek, an increase in unprotected sex and the exchange of syringes could explain the rise in the number of Aids cases. She said the drop in safety precautions had been triggered by a lack of fear of the disease, particularly because of the development of new therapies.
"The awareness has declined in European countries, because the press has focused on the Aids problem in Africa," Matuschek added. "So this means that people aren't protecting themselves like they did a few years ago."
Raise public awareness
To reverse the trend, Matuschek said the campaign's Aids section had to examine the data and speak with street workers to determine what has changed. "Then, we have to raise public awareness," she said.
The biggest increase in Aids cases was in 1986 when over 3,000 people tested positive. The figures then steadily declined, with the exception of a smaller jump in 1991.
"The decline reached a sort of plateau in 1998, with figures remaining steady until now," Matuschek explained.
In 2000, 586 people tested HIV positive. In 1999, Matuschek said there were 602 cases with 657, last year.
"The figures are very low compared with other countries," she added.
In the past 10 years, 7,188 people in Switzerland have developed Aids. Since 1985, 5081 have died - 3912 men and 1169 women.
by Samantha Tonkin with agencies