A day in the life of Giustina Casu

IAS Member, web content editor for the Sardinian Science and Technology Park and NGO founder and activist in Sardinia, Italy

Since 2009 I've been working as web content editor for the Science and Technology Park in Sardinia. In 2010 I started to work as media representative for a biopharma company called ViroStatics, which tests and designs new drugs against HIV. In the field of research there is a growing demand for communication professionals able to translate scientific results and data to the general public, especially through new media and social networking tools.

(Also) Nowadays, both private and public funding institutions require visibility and dissemination of the scientific results achieved. This is why researchers specialize more and more on scientific communication and journalists and editors are trying to improve their expertise on science. Not only developing research is important, but also translating research findings from scientific language into a language that is easier to understand for the general public.

I developed this interest in and commitment to communications for science and health a few years ago, when I worked on projects on social inclusion, training and job insertion for migrant women, with a special focus on trafficked women and former sex workers.

During this interesting experience I had a training on HIV therapy and prevention strategies, tools and counseling and social help and I had the chance to meet women living with HIV .After a short experience in Chile, I started a collaboration with an international scientific journal called Journal of Infection in Developing Countries, a non profit project related to Infectious Diseases. This gave me the opportunity to meet researchers and clinicians from several developing countries as well as to understand how the publication process works. I'm still very fond of this project and whenever I have some free time I attend the Editorial Board meetings.

Besides my job, I'm the co-founder of a charity called “Associazione Acos”. The charity, named after a young Nigerian girl who has been contacted and supported by our NGO, performs activities of prevention and harm reduction against HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Once a week, our trained volunteers meet on the streets with a group of female and transgender sex-workers. In one year we've met approximately 100 individuals and each night we talk to an average of 25 individuals. This, in a town with 130,000 inhabitants. Sex-workers are illegal migrants from Nigeria (more than 80%), Romania Central and Southern America, and China. We inform them of their rights and duties as illegal migrants because, while sex-work is not illegal in Italy, being an illegal migrant is against the law.

In terms of HIV prevention, we provide them with information and free prevention tools such as condoms and personal lubricants, explaining why and how they can be used to reduce STD and HIV transmission. This kind of prevention strategy is not novel, but we can consider ourselves really as a novelty for Sardinia, as there are no other prevention campaigns of this kind addressing migrants and sex-workers and not even similar prevention activities aiming at informing the general public or other vulnerable populations.

Luckily, I have to say that the level of knowledge on HIV and STDs among these sex workers is very high. This is maybe because they come from countries (such as Sub-Saharan Africa) where the results of both infection and prevention campaigns are clearly visible. Instead, what is disappointing is that the local Italian population who is in contact with them- clients, partners, and even doctors - are not adequately informed on HIV and other STDs, due to the lack of prevention and information campaigns on HIV/AIDS in Italy during the last 20 years.

Nowadays AIDS/HIV is not an issue anymore in Italy, there are no public strategies to inform people and young generations, limited and occasional prevention campaigns or information at school, despite the statistics on incidence among teen-agers and young people and the fact that the heterosexual transmission rate is very high in our “Western Developed” country.