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
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
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
Colin de la Motte-Sherman