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Syphilis patients on the rise in east

A SLOVAK doctor believes that an increased number of patients infected with syphilis in his area is a regional phenomenon resulting from social and political changes after the fall of communism.

His venereal diseases clinic in the eastern Slovak town of Trebišov recorded a significant growth of patients infected with syphilis this year. While in previous years the number of patients treated for syphilis was three to four cases per year, Trebišov hospital has treated several dozen such cases since the beginning of 2002.

Ondrej Bobík, head of the hospital's veneral diseases department, said that he could not remember seeing such a high number of patients in the last 30 years. His hospital treats patients from the southern Zemplín area in the southeast of the country.

Based on the background of the patients his hospital treated this year, Bobík said that there were two particular groups at risk - a specific group of Roma minority people living in the area and promiscuous people, mainly prostitutes.

Bobík said Roma people with multiple sexual partners often came into his clinic with the early stages of syphilis. He said the local Roma community was helpful in identifying and contacting people who may have contracted the disease. Milan Horvát, vice-chair of the local Roma activist group, is helping the hospital contact and persuade individuals to visit hospital and have checkups and subsequent treatment carried out, the doctor added.

The other group particularly at risk, prostitutes, were involved in the so-called sex tourism scene, Bobík said. The prostitutes his hospital treated worked both in Slovakia and abroad.

"Girls from Zemplín who provide sexual services in the Czech Republic come for medical checkups and for treatment here," he said.

Bobík believes that the recent wave of syphilis is related to an overall feeling of liberalisation after the fall of communism. He said he thought it was a regional phenomenon.

"This is the situation in more places than southern Zemplín. A similar increase in instances of syphilis has been recorded in surrounding countries, particularly in Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Hungary," Bobík said.

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