It is little more than a month since my last visit to Belgrade and I find myself back in the city I have grown to enjoy so much. I am relaxed in this city and I have a number of good friends here. It makes travel so much easier when you know that you can pick up the phone to some friends and meet them within hours of arriving back.
Regular readers of my posts will know that the topics I share can be quite wide-ranging. They can also generate debate, which I see as a good thing. I like to see others get involved by contributing their own take on the issue and, although we do not always agree, it is encouraging to when someone can put their view across while respecting another person’s opinion. It works to get it out in the open. Most of the time. Like anyone, I have moments when I am so taken aback that I need to resist posting a comment that would only inflame the conversation more.
This week I have been enjoying documentaries about one of the greatest rock bands, Queen. The reason for this look-back by the media is that it is twenty years since Queen frontman Freddie Mercury succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia and died.
Just 24 hours before his death, Freddie announced that he had AIDS. It was a very different world back in 1991, as we know well. So great was the stigma and lack of understanding about AIDS at that time that Freddie chose to keep quiet about his condition. Many had guessed that something was badly wrong – the signs were clear to see – but few actually knew the truth. Over the years the same story has come to light with many other well-known singers and Hollywood stars. Clearly, these will not be the final celebrity revelations on this subject and, when the next celebrity makes that sad announcement, it is quite likely that it will not come as a great surprise that time either.
I was working in the music business in 1991 time and some of the people I was working with knew Freddie well and were deeply affected by his death. Freddie’s passing definitely stirred up discussion about AIDS in a way that government education campaigns had failed to do.
Thankfully, people who become infected today have much better chances than Freddie, with better drugs and greater understanding of the virus and its effects. Of course, that only works if the infection is diagnosed and addressed with the right medicine early enough. In reality, the number of men and women who are walking the streets and unaware that they are HIV+ is frighteningly high. While the success of new treatments is positive, there is no room for complacency. The only way to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS is to encourage people know the facts and act responsibly.
This coming Thursday (1 December) is World AIDS Day, when awareness and understanding is promoted about AIDS and HIV. On this day, red ribbons are worn in recognition of those who are infected or affected by the HIV virus. It is also a time when people in any question about the effects of their sexual adventures or drug use are encouraged to take an HIV test. For those who take the simple and quick test, it can mean that they can make sensible decisions about their own health and the lives of others, whatever the result.
To coincide with this day, an initiative to encourage people to take an AIDS test is being launched in Belgrade. Every Thursday evening December, BGD Checkpoint (formerly the Drop-in Centre) will be carrying out a programme of anonymous and confidential counselling and testing for HIV. You will not need to give your name or have health insurance.
Twenty minutes after the test, the results will be ready and support and advice will be on offer. If you are not in Belgrade, maybe look online for the best options suitable to you.
The adage ‘what you do not know, cannot hurt you’ simply is not valid. The spread of infection increases dramatically in communities where testing is still taboo, while those who are HIV+ or with full-blown AIDS can miss out on the drugs that can literally save their lives. And it is so easy to address that face on. We can all take more responsibility and deal better with what life throws at us. Make a start this Thursday: Take a test.