December 1st marks World AIDS Day in the fight against AIDS, one of the world's deadliest diseases whose spread in parts of the world has reached epidemic proportions. 40 million people worldwide are now infected with the HIV virus that leads to the disease; this year alone 3 million have died. With such alarming numbers, it is more important than ever to increase AIDS awareness and to promote safe sex, and organisations in the Czech Republic have been doing their share, setting up stands throughout the country providing information, offering free condoms, and of course accepting donations.
Radim Uzel, one of the Czech Republic's best known sex therapists, was one of those doing his part this morning on Prague's Wenceslas Square: he told Radio Prague's Jan Velinger about the AIDS awareness campaign.
"We are organised across the Czech Republic in the fight against HIV/AIDS and we have about 5,000 students and young people and we are organising this activity for a 4th year in a row and nowadays we are very proud of this activity. All the money is going to The Light House in Prague, a facility for people infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS."
How do you yourself fell about general awareness about HIV and AIDS here, especially among young people?
"The Czech Republic the situation is much better than in other post-communist countries, but there's no question awareness is a necessity".
Students taking part were also happy to talk about what they felt was a very important task; indeed some of them had been up and about as early as 7 a.m.
"We're walking around trying to sell red ribbons to people on the street and to inform them about AIDS. On the whole, I would say people are better informed; that wasn't the case under communism, when officials tried to play the dangers down. I think generally today people have more information."
Even if HIV incidence in the Czech Republic has so far remained remarkably low - less than 800 cases - all were aware of the threat and the potential explosion specialists have been warning about for years. As it stands the Czech Republic is caught between a somewhat higher HIV incidence in Western Europe, and an incidence of epidemic proportions in the East, in countries like Ukraine. Still, people we spoke to in the capital - both foreigners and Czechs - agreed the fight against AIDS was one of collective responsibility.
"This is a really important day for the whole world because we should just put more money towards preventing HIV/AIDS. You never know when you can meet it and I think there should be more info for young people."
"I think that in this country HIV is not such a big problem but we should be concerned about countries where half of the population is in great danger."
"I think there's a case of 'tunnel vision': probably half the world is suffering and they'll get support, but towards the rest they turn a blind eye."
"We have problems like this in England; we should care about everyone, really. Not just about ourselves."
Radio Prague's own Dita Aseidu spoke with Jaroslav Jedlicka, of the UNAIDS office in Prague, discussing the situation of HIV incidence in the Czech Republic, compared to elsewhere, most notably to the East.
"The statistics for the Czech Republic are not as bad as the global situation is; around 760 people are infected with HIV, of which over one hundred have AIDS. This is probably because the whole region of Central Europe reacted to this epidemic pretty well. It is economically developed and people are enthusiastic about HIV/AIDS prevention. Of course the potential in this country is that HIV infection might spread in the most vulnerable populations such as injecting drug users or commercial sex workers. We are aware of this risk and we focus our attention to these high-risk groups."
For the first time, WHO has ranked the Czech Republic, Central Europe, in the same category with Western Europe. It used to be ranked with Eastern Europe. We have seen that in the last decade the situation in Eastern Europe has changed tremendously, with a dramatic rise in the number of infections. Does that threaten the Czech Republic in any way?
"Many immigrants and asylum seekers come from high prevalence countries and the current situation is that we record many immigrants from Eastern Europe and many of the infected people here come from Ukraine and Russia and the threat is that more than one half of the HIV infections in women, especially in Eastern European women, engage in prostitution in the territory of the Czech Republic."
Why are asylum seekers not being tested for HIV then?
"Yes, because the Czech Republic follows the WHO recommendation, which says that only voluntary HIV tests are according to world and local law. We cannot force anyone to get tested for HIV. The only time it is mandatory is before blood or tissue donations."
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