EThere is nothing worse than ignorance,” says Carsten Gehrig from the Frankfurt AIDS Federation. The head of the department for psychosocial affairs and prevention explains in the first sentence why new HIV infections are still being reported today, more than 40 years after the disease first appeared in a person. On the one hand, this is due to the ignorance of a few who carry the virus without suspecting it. On the other hand, the ignorance of many who do not know enough about infection routes or prevention options. According to Gehrig, sometimes both cases apply to people. On the other hand, only active educational work can help, he says. A task to which the Frankfurt Aids-Hilfe has dedicated itself since it was founded in 1985. Since then, a lot has happened. In the meantime, AIDS has become normal as part of the gay present. But the boundaries have softened, sexual life in society has changed.
In the past year in Great Britain, for the first time, the group of heterosexuals was most affected by a new HIV infection. In Germany, too, infections among those affected who do not belong to the known risk group “MSM” are increasing. The abbreviation MSM stands for “men who have sex with men”. A shift that can also be seen in a reorientation of the educational work: Whereas in the 1980s and 1990s the HIV protection measures were aimed primarily at homosexuals, the AIDS help is now expanding its prevention mandate far beyond the “classic risk group”.
Spread of sexually transmitted diseases
Gehrig sees one reason for this development in the fact that, even in heterosexual contexts, changing sex partners are becoming more popular and accessible thanks to dating apps. But the fleeting sex is not the problem. Especially in the case of heterosexuals, the lack of information accelerates the further spread of sexually transmitted diseases. “Again and again we observe that many heterosexuals deal with casual sex in a supposedly naïve way. They think AIDS cannot affect them,” states Gehrig, who has worked for the AIDS organization for eight years. Any sexually active person can become infected with a sexually transmitted disease and thus also with HIV. “You can’t absolve yourself of this disease just because you’re heterosexual,” warns Gehrig.
It seems as if the deadly disease has lost its horror. It is true that the regular intake of medication now enables those affected to live with the virus without serious restrictions. However, if no treatment is given, an outbreak of infection can still severely damage the immune system and lead to death.
A fact that today seems to have largely disappeared from people’s consciousness, as Gehrig observes. It is all the more difficult to find new approaches in active educational work. “By the end of the nineties, people couldn’t hear about the condoms anymore,” he says. While the condom remains the mainstay of protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, especially in cases of unknowing transmission, medical advances mean there are more ways to protect yourself from the virus today.