AIDS in Bulgaria: Getting The Message Across

Novinite Insider » EDITORIAL | August 18, 2003, Monday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
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AIDS in Bulgaria: Getting The Message Across The HIV virus has killed millions around the world. Bulgaria has recorded just some four hundred infections in a population of approximately 8 million people, but experts suppose their actual number exceeds that figure

By Milena Hristova

"AIDS? You must be kidding. I've never met anyone who's got AIDS in Bulgaria. And besides, with so many problems on my mind, I couldn't care less about it right now", says Marina, 26.

With excellent university education and good looks, she is set to find the place she deserves in the professional and personal field. Small wonder this is on the top of the agenda for her.

And though hers is not the profile of the average Bulgarian, she is one of many Bulgarians who believe AIDs is not their problem, but someone else's. Latest data of the Health Ministry shows however that in over 90% percent of the cases the disease has been transmitted through sexual contacts. In this form the disease knows no age limits - unprotected sex inflicts with HIV people aged from 17 till 68.

Bulgaria has recorded just some four hundred infections in a population of approximately 8 million people. Though experts suppose their actual number exceeds that figure AIDS is not an epidemic of catastrophic proportions. Statistical data speaks for itself - the number of people diagnosed with HIV positive reached 447 as of August 12, 2003, HIV positive men outnumber two times and a half the number of women.

This is nothing like the dramatic increase of HIV infections in Russia over the last five years, which experts say threatens to wash away the country's young.

The question is can we prevent it from exploding here?

HIV-infections in Bulgaria are not increasing at a rapid pace, says Tonka Vurleva, Secretary General of the National AIDS Committee with Bulgaria's Health Ministry. Decease rate remains rather low, but we must bear in mind the fact that the country is located in a region where the spread of HIV/AIDS over the last three-four years have been pervasive, she underlines.

Bulgaria's young pay a high price for being the first generation to have lived so far without the strict restrictions of the former totalitarian regime, often without any clear vision for the future and often in poverty. More than 40% of HIV infections are among 20-29 years old and the spread of the virus is particularly severe among young intravenous drug users.

HIV has already crossed into the mainstream population and when the time comes it will take its toll among people from all ages, social groups and professions.

Bulgarians still are not fully aware of the importance of a healthy sexual life, according to Vurleva. Surveys show that more and more people know about the risks and the ways to prevent it, but few of them actually apply this knowledge in practice.

Discrimination is another factor that adds fuel to the problem.

Recently an analysis of the World Bank sounded an alarm over a brewing HIV/AIDS epidemic in southeastern Europe. The main reasons? Political upheaval, increasingly mobile population, social conditions and last but not least social attitudes.

Discrimination is a global problem and lack of tolerance has always been an issue in Bulgaria, says Vurleva. She is quick to add that efforts are being made to address the problem, such as involving HIV positive people and those with full-blown AIDS in preventive activities, consultancy and self-aid groups.

AIDS is one of the greatest challenges of our century, but it takes time for the people and the society to change its attitudes and behaviour. It is even harder to find the right approaches for this change, Vurleva argues.

Widespread discrimination would naturally provide people with little motivation to find out whether they are HIV positive. Still Bulgaria boasts an easy access to HIV testing. Under the current legislation every Bulgarian can do such tests free of charge. Anonymity guaranteed.

The government seems to try hard to address the issue. As early as 2001 the National Strategy and the National Action Plan for Prevention and Control of AIDS was adopted to cover the period from 2001-2007. The activities of the program are controlled by the National AIDS Committee with the Cabinet. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS aid- a total of USD 7 M - is expected to support its completion.

Officials claim to be able to track in detail the spread of HIV - each year some 250,000 persons are tested, 1 in every 6,000 is diagnosed HIV positive. From USD 6,000 to 11,000 is spend annually for the treatment of the patients, some BGN 4-5 M is allocated each year for diagnostic tests and treatment.

Chances are that AIDS will not turn into an epidemic of catastrophic proportions.

But it may well turn out to be Bulgaria's lesson in awareness and tolerance.
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