More than 84,000 people in Germany suffer from HIV. In a country where contracting the virus no longer means certain death, the Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe hopes to eradicate HIV diagnoses by raising awareness of HIV tests.
“I knew it was too late when I lost weight – 30 kilograms. When it became clear that I had HIV, I thought I was going to die within two to three days.”
Like thousands of HIV sufferers across Germany, Maik, who was diagnosed with the virus in 2007 held back from taking a test, largely due to societal attitudes towards the virus.
“In the 90s, a friend of mine died from AIDS,” Maik told DW in Berlin on Friday. “But there are many other factors that held me back: the fear of discrimination, of being ostracized. I needed to be pushed by a doctor or a friend and that didn’t happen.”
No aids for everyone!
It’s concerns of people like Maik that charity, Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe (German AIDS organization) hopes to eliminate as part of their new campaign “Kein AIDS für alle!” (No aids for everyone!) which aims have no new HIV diagnoses in Germany by 2020 – 10 years ahead of the same aim laid out by the German government in their “BIS2030” (By 2030) strategy.
As well as fearing the worst by taking a HIV test, many people assume today that they couldn’t be HIV positive as they continue to associate the infection with specific groups, predominantly gay men and drug users.
84,700 affected in Germany
Around 1,000 new cases of HIV are diagnosed in Germany every year. However, of the total 84,700 people infected by the virus, the Robert Koch Institute estimates that some 12,600 do not know about their infection.
Approximately 60,700 HIV-infected people are also receiving antiretroviral treatment, indicating that almost 11,000 HIV-infected people know about their infection but do not take medication.
But if diagnosed and treated in time, no HIV case must develop into AIDS, which only develops when the HIV virus has caused serious damage to the immune system.
“Today, those affected by HIV could live long and well,” said Manuel Izdebski, director of Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe in Unna, western Germany. The medication available today also prevents the HIV infection from being passed on.
Results of a study released Thursday by specialist journal “The Lancet HIV” found that a 20-year-old who began HIV treatment in 2008 can enjoy a normal life expectancy and statistically live until 78.
In Germany, the current average life expectancy for women is 83.06 and 78.18 for men. Read more: Top ten most dangerous viruses in the world
Former German Health Minister Rita Süssmuth warned that in the face of complacency, the campaign is urgently needed.
“The expectation of no longer dying of AIDS weakens the awareness in the younger generation of the dangers of the illness,” she said.
As Germany’s health minister in the 1980s, Süssmuth launched the German Prevention Strategy against AIDS and is an honorary member of the Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe.
In order to achieve their goal of no new HIV diagnoses within three years, the charity aims to raise awareness of the benefits of an early HIV test, particularly among specific target groups including gay men, drug users, sex workers and migrants.
Migrants without papers, for example, are particularly reluctant to seek medical attention out of fear of being deported, Winfried Holz, co-chair of Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe said in Berlin on Friday.
As well as an online campaign which will be broadcast via Facebook and Twitter, huge placards are being installed in Berlin, while postcards encouraging people to take an HIV test will be distributed in 808 venues in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt.
Doctors are also being offered new training through schemes such as “Let’s talk about sex,” which aims to make addressing HIV tests with patients easier, in the hope of more doctors suggesting an HIV test. Discussions are also underway in Germany’s Ministry of Health which is currently investigating the approval of HIV rapid tests for domestic use.
“These days, the reality of HIV doesn’t correlate to what people imagine in their heads,” Maik told DW.
“The day I was told to plan my pension fund, I knew: I’m going to live.”