'Knowledge wins' is Croatia’s slogan for World AIDS Day

29 Nov 2013

To mark World AIDS Day on 1 December 2013, the United Nations, the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute in Croatia launched a national campaign to encourage people to seek testing for HIV/AIDS. Confidential HIV testing is available free of charge in Croatia in ten county public health centres. Organized under the slogan “Knowledge wins,” the media campaign was also part of the first European HIV testing week on 22-29 November 2013.

The popular Croatian band TBF contributed to the campaign by allowing the use of its song “Positive attitude” and adjusting the lyrics to promote the campaign’s message. The spot, which will be televised as part of the campaign, can be viewed on YouTube.

Croatia remains a country with a low prevalence of HIV/AIDS, with no more than 17 cases per one million people. Since 1986, a total of 1,102 HIV infections have been diagnosed, with 76 new cases of HIV, 18 new cases of AIDS and 8 AIDS-related deaths registered in Croatia so far this year. The scale of the infection in Croatia has remained stable over the last decade, with no sign of expansion. Antiretroviral treatment has long been available through the public healthcare system.

But the new campaign is a warning against complacency, since many people experience no symptoms for a long time and remain unaware that they have the infection. In Europe, an estimated 30 percent of those with HIV remain undiagnosed. This is why health authorities and the UN encourage HIV testing, since the benefits of early diagnosis and antiretroviral therapy are well documented. Access to effective therapy and early treatment has greatly reduced HIV-related morbidity and mortality.

Globally, the UN reported progress over the past year in combating HIV/AIDS but warned that some regions and countries were falling behind. Last year 2.3 million new infections were reported worldwide, down 33 percent since 2001, and AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.6 million, a decline of 30 percent since the peak year of 2005. But there are worrying regional trends: new HIV infections have risen by 13 percent since 2006 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and have doubled since 2001 in the Middle East and North Africa. Currently more than 35 million people worldwide live with HIV.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an upbeat message for World AIDS Day, commending government spending increases for AIDS responses. But he also issued a reminder about the need to fight stigma and discrimination. “Now we must recommit to breaking the remaining barriers, including punitive laws and social exclusion, so we can reach all people who lack access to HIV treatment and services,” the Secretary-General said. “I especially urge action to end the discrimination and violence against women which cause terrible harm and increase risk of HIV infection and death from AIDS.”

In an effort to fight discrimination in Croatia, the UN team this year encouraged young people to use social networks to build contacts with people with HIV. An online competition was opened for young people to submit creative compositions or letters on the topic of HIV/AIDS. So far 30 essays containing vigorous words of encouragement and calls for unity have been submitted, including the following letter sent to a girl living with HIV by the students of Dr. Antun Barac High School in Crikvenica:

“I hope that this story has stimulated at least some individuals to start seeing. To be aware of this dangerous virus and realise that instead of fighting each other, we must turn to each other. This disease does not happen to somebody else, it happens to us. If we do not help each other, who will be the one rescuing us?”

***

The UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS as a leading instrument of UN work in the area of HIV/AIDS in Croatia is continuously providing support to both governmental institutions and non-governmental organizations. It also conducts activities for co-sponsor UNAIDS with the goal of improving the battle against HIV/AIDS. The main areas of action include: assistance to the national authorities in planning and implementing the National Programme for Prevention of AIDS; efforts to promote and protect human rights; and development of monitoring and evaluation systems within the country.