The AIDS virus reached a somber milestone in Slovakia in early 1999, when the 100th person in the nation's history found out that he carried the HIV-virus. While the country's AIDS figures were still relatively low, health officials warned, they could soon rise as high-risk behaviour increased among Slovaks.
Of the total number of people infected with the deadly disease, 70 are Slovaks, of whom 59 are men and 11 are women. The disease has reached the stage of full development in 19 cases while 14 people have died of AIDS, said Daniel Stanček, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS in Bratislava. There were 12 new cases reported in 1998.
"The rate of AIDS in Slovakia is still one of the lowest in the world," said Lisa Jacobs, a press officer with the World Health Organization. In Germany for example, 35,000 AIDS cases have been reported.
But there are signs that the rate will rise in Slovakia and throughout the eastern European region, she said.
"AIDS got to Slovakia late" she said, adding that the Iron Curtain had protected eastern Europe not only from contact with foreigners with AIDS, but also from social bevaviour like sexual promiscuity and intravenous drug use which help the virus spread.
As more Slovak citizens travel abroad, and tourism, promiscuity and the number of drug-addicts continue to increase at home, doctors expect that the number of people who contract the HIV virus, especially those who remain unidentified, will increase in Slovakia, said Monika Habeková, a doctor with the a branch of the Institute for Preventive and Clinical Medicine.
The WHO's Jacobs said the most common form of high-risk behaviour in eastern Europe was intravenous drug use. The increase in sexually transmitted diseases, she said, also indicated that safe sex procedures are not being followed, which will help the virus to spread.
"In Russia, for example, the rate of syphilis was 68 times higher among young people in 1996 than it was in 1991," she said.
About 2.6 million AIDS tests have been given in Slovakia since 1986, most of them in the course of obligatory blood tests when they volunteered as blood donors. Stanček added that by law, doctors can also require citizens they suspect of having AIDS to submit to a blood test, while anonymous AIDS tests can be conducted for free in 60 Slovak hospitals which give blood transfusions.
Stanček reported that there had been only one AIDS case in Slovakia in the 1980's: a Slovak who received a transfusion of contaminated blood abroad. Because of the average 13 1/2 year incubation period for full-blown AIDS, it is also difficult to know how many people are now infected.
While the government focuses on testing as a method of AIDS control, a non-governmental AIDS organization called Slovak AIDS Help promotes safe sex through education, distributing free condoms around Slovakia. The national centre also sponsors an AIDS telephone help line, which can be reached at 421-7- 54 78 92 49 on Mondays and Fridays from 08:00 to 16:00.
21. Feb 1999 at 0:00 | Sharon Otterman