EUROCASO in PragueA-1-91-A-4-EUROC Prag (OA) (E)  

EUROCASO in Prague
A conference report

Published in German in
Die Andere Welt,
December 1991

he meeting of the European Council of AIDS Service Organisations was held in October 1991 in Prague. Thanks to the good preparatory work of SAP (Spolecnost AIDS Pomoce), a Czech AIDS-Help group, as well as Arne Husdal from the Norwegian Group PLUSS the meeting was a noticeable success.

Differences and Similarities

The AIDS-activists taking part came from very different countries and organisations - including Hungary (PLUSS, a society for HIV-Positive people); Bulgaria (AIDS-Telephone Line); Italy (LILA -- Italian AIDS-Help); England (Positive Women, one of the few Groups. which concerns itself with HIV-positive and women with AIDS); Belfast (AIDS-Help, STIGMA) also from Slovenia und Moscow. Unfortunately groups from southern Europe were under represented.

After a short opening by the representatives of the European Community and World Health Organisation, as well as the Czech Health Minister the economic, personnel und the content of work in the individuals countries was discussed in workshops - a source of information and exchange of ideas.
Some significant problems arose in the course of discussion. Many participants had difficulties in getting to the congress at all. A representative from Riga, due to problems with exit visas had to make a detour lasting several days.

The problems in the eastern European countries are in some ways similar, in others quite different from those of western Europe. The political changes taking place there have opened society for the discussion of themes such as sexuality which have so far be strictly taboo. But the "opening up" is taking place only slowly - and often with resistance as was reported by activists from a Polish organisation.

A Dangerous Fashion

Sex-Tourism has become fashionable in eastern Europe. Sexual contacts in these countries are often unsafe, since many people travelling there are of the opinion that there is little risk of being infected and not many infected individuals. A further problem is that in countries where poverty and the influence of the Catholic Churches are strong, there are hardly any condoms available. Sex education is almost non-existent. Thus it is considered progress in Poland when a school director allows older pupils to talk to younger ones about safer-sex. But the stigmatisation of homosexuals and drug-users (about 70% of HIV-positive persons in Poland), plus the widespread campaign of the Catholic Church against the use of condoms, and the reservations of the mass media, - limits the possibility of explaining how people become infected with HIV.

What remains a possibility is discussions in small groups, the distribution of leaflets and repeated approaches to the responsible institutions. In addition shortage of money, and the flood of other social, economic and political problems, make an intensification of AIDS-prevention work very difficult. The lack of current knowledge also makes objectives explanations more difficult.

"How do you write a safer-sex leaflet ?", What should its contents be?", "How does one educate medical personnel, who are afraid of and have prejudices against HIV- and AIDS-patients ?" all questions in which the east European groups are interested in the experience of groups in western countries. But in this process it is often forgotten that the pre-conditions in these countries are different, that sexuality and AIDS are handled different. Thus a Polish group who translated a French Safer-sex leaflet were accused of spreading pornography !

It also became very clear that in eastern Europe the human rights of patients are often abused, one reason why the conference passed a protest resolution which demanded that the WHO use its influence with the governments of the region in order to ensure that the humans tights of people living with AIDS are observed.

Hard -- Human -- Gentle

The last three days of the conference were "theme-days" - firstly, hardware: This concerned itself with the question of finances, accommodation (rooms etc) for groups. Secondly, Human beings: Here the concerns and qualities of the co-workers in a project played the major role - for instance the danger of "burn out" and how it can be avoided. And finally "Software": Problems related to the acquisition and distribution of information, abilities and skills in the work of AIDS-organisations. In these organisations the unimaginable difficulties facing the east European groups became clear., and there are many unsolved questions.

Reports were received from Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union that a large part of the population needed two jobs to bring their incomes above poverty level. Thus it is difficult to find volunteers who can devote themselves to volunteer work. There is also the question of basic anxieties, fears and worries, associated with the changes taking place in society. Related to this is that a low number of co-workers in a project increases the likelihood of "burn out". A major problem, therefore, is "acquisition" of future activists.

Southeast -- No Paradise

We spoke with Alexander Modinos from Cyprus about homosexuality and AIDS there. Many holiday-makers, remarked Modinos in connection with the growing sex-tourism in his country, underestimate the likelihood of infecting themselves. Homosexuals are also still at risk of 14 years imprisonment. (1991 C.M-S.) Only recently a young Swiss male spent a week behind bars, because he let his homosexual orientation become known, and he was only released after the energetic intervention of the Swiss Embassy. Modinos also reported that the conditions for HIV-positive and AIDS-sick people has improved in the last two years. Whereas previously HIV-person were simply thrown on the street by their families, at least the Gay Liberation Front of Cyprus can now offer help. They have a 24-hour Help-line and receive support - both material and financial from the general population.

Even in the West - no peace!

In some regions of Europe (Italy and Flanders) the fight against the spread of the HI-virus is met with ignorance and the opposition of the clerics. Thus in Flanders a Cardinal threatened the Minister of Health with a counter-campaign if she used advertising encouraging the use of condoms. It was also demanded that the co-workers of the AIDS-organisation should be sacked and their duties assumed by an institution devoted to general health education. The representatives of Flanders at the conference asked for international support in this connection, especially protest letters direct to the Belgian Government or its embassies.

A moving statement concerning the defence of the human rights of sex-workers was made by the representative of the 'Scottish Prostitutes Education Project", Ruth Morgan-Thomas. She contradicted the frequently repeated opinion that prostitutes are the main source of infection, since they are not clear about and practice unsafe sex. She reminded her listeners that as early as the 17th century - when the first condoms were developed, it was prostitutes who first used them since they were even then aware of the problems of sexually transmitted diseases.

The participants were of one opinion that AIDS was not just a matter for homosexuals. All should be drawn into the process of AIDS-prevention - and the main difficulty here was the lack of exchange of information.

A computer-network was demonstrated, which functions as a databank, is of international standard, and allows permanent access to important scientific, research, AIDS-work data.

The work of Peter Scott from London on the AIDS-Handbook was also introduced and received with great attention and interest. The first volume of the work deals with ways the virus is transmitted, health education, social law, accommodation and much more. The second volume contains a list of HIV, AIDS, and related organisations groups and social services, providing help. It mirrors the social network and offers good possibilities of making contact in the interests of infected persons and patients. It is intended that the project be extended to cover Europe - and receives extensive support from the EG.

The conference ended with the election of a committee, which also includes representatives of organisations from Belfast, Budapest and Moscow. A secretariat for EUROCASO should be established in Belfast.

Colin de la Motte-Sherman

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