NEWS

Greek battle against AIDS reports good news as epidemic stabilizes and deaths from disease drop

World AIDS Day on December 1 marked the disease’s decline in Greece, given the drop in the number of deaths from AIDS in previous years and a reduced rate of transmission among the general population. But experts call for continued vigilance, as AIDS continues to be an uncontrolled epidemic in less developed countries. AIDS in the richer Western countries may have become more of a chronic disease (with a 20-year survival period for sufferers) due to new anti-retroviral drugs but the syndrome in sub-Saharan Africa threatens to wipe out a large part of the population, which lack access to new treatments. According to statistics produced by the Center for the Control of Special Diseases, presented by the head of the Third Pathological Department – Infectious Diseases Unit of the Red Cross Hospital, Marios Lazanas, the first six months of 2002 saw the number of reported cases of people developing AIDS (carriers and patients) in Greece stabilize, after showing a drop the previous two years. From 1983 to the end of June 2002, a total of 6,088 people developed the disease, of whom the majority were men (4,925). The first signs of a drop in the rate of spread were seen in 2000, when 515 cases were reported, against 723 in 1999. There were 433 cases in 2001. In the first six months of 2002, 17 people died of AIDS, against 50 in 2001. Overall, 1,323 Greeks have lost their lives to the disease. The 25-49 age group is the most vulnerable, and 75 children under the age of 12 have been infected, chiefly through their mothers. The main form of transmission of the HIV virus is sex between men (accounting for 45.3 percent of reported cases), while, over the past few years, transmission via heterosexual relations appears to have increased (17 percent). However, in 28.3 percent of cases, the form of transmission has not been determined. Comparison with the rest of Europe brings the encouraging news that in 2000 and 2001, the spread of HIV in Greece was below the EU average (39.6 cases per million people as opposed to 54.4 cases per million people in the EU). The country with the highest number of HIV-positive cases (247.7 per million people) is Portugal. Equally encouraging are the figures for the incidence of new cases. In 2001, 7.7 Greeks per million people developed AIDS, against an EU average of 21.8 per million people. Worldwide, 42 million people are infected with HIV, while 3.2 million people have died of it in 2002. At a recent press conference, Health Minister Costas Stefanis noted that, despite these encouraging results, authorities must not relax their vigilance as AIDS is a very serious disease that continues to spread and represents a great threat. He added that the enemy in the fight against the scourge, apart from the virus itself, was the lack of information on proper means of protection as well as socioeconomic conditions to be found in less developed countries, especially in Africa. For his part, the head of the Center for the Control of Special Diseases, Georgios Saroglou, noted that the «rich West» might have restricted the spread of the disease, but in Africa it threatens to wipe out whole nations, possibly affecting Western countries in the future.