German health authorities, reacting to an alarming rise in new HIV infections from 2003 to 2004, have resolved to intensify their pro-condom campaign. Can heath educators instil "safer sex" attitudes in today's youth?
Declining condom use is leading to a rise in AIDS infections.
In relation to its European neighbors, Germany has a fairly low rate of HIV/AIDS infection. In 2004, according to the Robert Koch Institute, 45,000 people living in Germany were infected, in a country of over 82 million. Only Norway, Sweden, and Finland, among western European nations, had a lower percentage of cases. On the face of it, this would seem to be a statistic Elisabeth Pott, director of the Federal Center for Health Education, could be proud of.
But Pott is not particularly proud of Germany's current position in the battle against AIDS. The statistics on condom use are alarming for epidemiologists, as they tell a story of increasing disregard for safer sex practices that were encouraged by intensive campaigns in the late 1980s.
In 1987 Germany began a 50 million deutschmark nationwide anti-AIDS program. The program was so successful in cutting down the number of new infections that it was itself whittled down annually until in 1998, the budget was some 18 million deutschmarks (around nine million euros).
AIDS prevention posters
Critics say the effect of this scaling down can be seen in the changing attitudes of Germany's youth towards the epidemic today. Whereas two in three 16-year-olds ranked AIDS among the most dangerous diseases in the late eighties, today only one third do.
False sense of security
The lack of concern over AIDS has also led to a marked decrease in condom use, especially among 16 to 44-year-old single people, reported Pott.
"In 2003, 78 percent of those engaging in sex with a new partner used condoms, while in 2004 it was only 70 percent," she reported. "We are seeing that even though we are still below 2,000 new infections per year, we had a six percent climb in new infections from 2003 to 2004. This is clearly a sign that tells us more has to be done to reach people."
An HIV-positive sex worker at a counseling center in Madras, India
As reports in the media on AIDS, especially in industrialized countries, have declined, many people now believe that AIDS has been vanquished in the first world and relegated to the third. This picture, said Pott, is not only far from the truth, it is dangerous as well.
Help from insurers
The limited financial resources of the Federal Center for Health Education make it difficult to reach the more people more effectively. However, private health insurers have offered to step in to join the fight and help expand AIDS prevention programs. With their help, the prevention budget will be increased to 12 million euros.
"As views about safer sex have become more lax, especially among the younger groups, we have realized the importance of giving an added push for prevention," said Volker Leienbach, director of the Association of Private Health Insurers.
Ein Fahrradfahrer fährt an einem Werbeplakat-Plakat zur Verhütung von Aids vorbei (Foto vom 08.01.2005 zur Illustration des Themas Jugend und Aids). Obwohl die Krankheit nach wie vor tödlich sei, wird nach Aussagen von Brandenburgs Gesundheitsministerin Dagmar Ziegler vor allem unter Jugendlichen ein immer sorgloserer Umgang mit HIV und Aids beobachtet. Offensichtlich habe die Verharmlosung etwas mit den medizinischen Fortschritten auf diesem Gebiet und verschiedenen Therapien zu tun, die den Ausbruch von Aids oft über Jahre hinauszögern könnten. Dass die Krankheit heilbar wäre, sei jedoch ein inzwischen weit verbreiteter Irrglaube. Aufgabe der Gesellschaft sei es deshalb, sie dafür zu sensibilisieren, für den eigenen Schutz zu sorgen. Foto: Soeren Stache +++(c) dpa - Report+++
The increased funding will go toward television and movie spots, as well as newspaper ads. There is a billboard campaign planned around World Aids Day on December 1.
The private insurers are the only health insurance group so far involved in the new condom campaigns. Pott said organizations across the spectrum need to get involved, since it is estimated that 30,000 new infections have been prevented through the prevention campaigns so far. "Treating that many people can cost 450 million euros annually," she said. "This number should give us pause to consider that, on top of the immense human costs caused by AIDS, we need to consider the benefits that preventive action offers for avoiding the financial costs as well."