Feature story

Germany—ending AIDS by 2020

12 May 2017

Sitting in his Mini Cooper, sporting traditional Bavarian lederhosen and a smart black waistcoat, Maik is a picture of health. It is hard to believe that nine years ago he was fighting for his life.

Maik is a 43-year-old engineer and test driver for a large German car manufacturer. He speaks slowly and softly, “Back then I didn’t think I’d ever drive a car again.”

Nine years ago Maik had left his doctors baffled. He had lost 30 kilos, and had become very ill. At the back of his mind, Maik knew he might have HIV—as a gay man he knew he was at higher risk of infection, but he was careful, and his last HIV test, 10 years ago, was negative. But he was worried. “I had the old pictures of AIDS in my head,” he said. “I was very scared.”

Despite the unmistakable symptoms, his doctor didn’t offer him an HIV test, but sent him home with throat lozenges for his mouth infection. “For me,” said Maik “This was proof enough that I didn’t have HIV.”

It was only when he was referred to a specialist that the possibility of HIV was raised and Maik was offered an HIV test. The results came back positive. Maik had HIV and his immune system was weakening. “I thought, I’m going to die because I didn’t have the courage to take an HIV test.”

At home he gave his partner the choice. “Either leave now or stay and watch me die.”

His partner stayed and Maik was given antiretroviral therapy.

Incredibly, just six weeks later, he was back at work. “I have been improbably lucky,” said Maik. He now works a full 40-hour week and makes time for sport.

Maik has shared his story to inspire and encourage others to test for HIV as part of the campaign by the German nongovernmental organization Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe to end AIDS in Germany by 2020. The campaign, Kein AIDS für Alle, aims to stop new HIV infections and ensure that by 2020 no one in Germany will develop AIDS.

“Ending the AIDS epidemic is within reach for Germany and ensuring that people know their status and can access treatment is critical to reaching that goal,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

HIV in Germany (2015 data from Robert Koch Institute)

85 000 people are living with HIV

72 000 people know their HIV-positive status

60 700 people are on antiretroviral treatment

3200 new HIV infections

<500 AIDS-related deaths

HIV treatment has been available in Germany for more than 20 years, preventing the onset of AIDS and allowing people living with HIV to live longer, healthier lives. However, it is estimated that every year more than 1000 people in Germany develop AIDS because of late diagnosis or because they are not accessing treatment.

“There are many reasons why people don’t take an HIV test. Some think they’re not at risk, even doctors don’t always recognize the need to test for HIV,” said Silke Klumb of Deutsche AIDS Hilfe. “There’s also still a huge fear of stigma and discrimination in Germany. And, unfortunately, not everyone has access to HIV services; undocumented migrants, for example, are one group that is being left behind.”

The Kein AIDS für Alle campaign will inform people about the risks of HIV infection and show that a positive test for HIV is not a death sentence, but the first step to living a long and healthy life.

“Don’t wait until it's too late,” affirms Maik. “Get tested regularly. A positive HIV diagnosis is a dramatic experience. But you can live well with HIV, providing you get treatment.”

HIV is the virus that causes HIV infection. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.

The campaign will aim to eliminate stigma and discrimination around HIV and encourage members of key populations to access HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services through innovative initiatives. There will also be support for doctors as part of efforts to improve timely diagnosis of HIV.

Deutsche AIDS Hilfe is an independent, non-profit association with 120 autonomous member organizations, including AIDS and drug treatment service organizations, HIV prevention projects, gay and lesbian centres and housing and home care projects. Together, they are committed to HIV prevention, treatment care and support and advocacy around HIV in Germany.

As part of efforts to achieve the commitments in the 2016 United Nations Political Declaration on Ending AIDS, UNAIDS is working to support community-led service delivery and build the capacity of civil society organizations to deliver HIV prevention, treatment and care services based on a non-discriminatory approach that respects, promotes and protects human rights.