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Health

There Was a Fight at a 24-Year-Old Romanian's Funeral After All His Lovers Found Out He Had HIV

So far, eight of the deceased's lovers have tested positive. Dozens more are currently awaiting their results.
November 21, 2014, 2:30pm

Above: Daniel Decu

This post originally appeared in VICE UK​

We've all had the thought, Damn, I hope a lot of my previous sexual partners have a massive fight at my funeral, right? What is the point of dying if your death isn't going to make people so mad they physically assault each other? If there aren't two equally hot widows only just discovering the existence of the other as they lower you into the ground, what have you lived for? If there is not a punch-up at my funeral, I refuse to die. I haven't made enough women mad at me yet.

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In Romania, it's not a fantasy. Last month, 24-year-old Lothario Daniel Decu was buried in Segarcea, in the southeast of the country, and dozens of young women turned up to mourn their lost lover. And then it emerged that he'd died of complications from HIV, and the whole thing turned into a massive, awful shouting match.

Since then, eight women have tested positive for the virus, with a rumored 40 more preparing to take the test. And that's just in Segarcea: Daniel spent a year in Italy before returning home to die, and the authorities are trying to search for his former lovers further afield.

Just a reminder if you missed it earlier: Daniel Decu was 24 when he died.

There's been a lot of finger-pointing in Romania following the Segarcea case, mainly at the freshly filled bit of ground under which Decu is buried—the Romanian media, particularly, is convinced his entire sex life was a decade-long act of criminal intent and not just a misinformed teenager sleeping around. A local doctor who discovered Decu's status when he found out he was seeing his daughter alleges he was warned off disclosing this information by Decu's mother, Elena, who threatened to sue him if he did. "I knew he had a lot of female friends," he said, "but there was nothing I could do about it."

If you're thinking, But dude, you can't just go around disclosing people's HIV status! then welcome to Romania. The country was devastated by HIV and AIDS in the late 80s and early 90s, with the true extent of the epidemic only coming to light when dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was toppled in 1989. The problem didn't stop there, though: There were a spate of infections in the early 90s—largely among children being treated in hospitals with poor sterilization practices. These problems, wedded to a powerful Romanian Orthodox Church, meant that prejudice and social abandonment awaited anyone coming out as HIV positive.

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In the early 90s, doctors were about as careful with HIV status information as they were with human blood, scrawling it large on medical reports to the point that entire neighborhoods often knew of a child's positive diagnosis before the kid did. In Romania, HIV is still largely (and wrongly) viewed as a death sentence, and those who have it are shunned.

Which is all sort of a perfect storm for developing what is now a full-blown HIV epidemic, with Daniel Decu its most high-profile victim. I asked the VICE Romania office how the country is responding to the news, and while there's been a lot of inward-facing analysis as a result of the Segarcea case, the main problem hasn't been confronted—and that's the almost total lack of sex education in the country.

"In Romania, sex ed is sometimes taught in schools at one class, from one optional subject the children's parents can sign them up for called 'Health Education,'" VICE Romania's Mihai Popescu explained. "There you learn about hormonal changes, sexuality, protecting yourself from STDs, and how to give first aid. But nobody goes to it."

Could the UK learn any lessons from the Segarcea case? In terms of HIV awareness, yup. In a Public Health England report entitled " HIV in the United ​Kingdom 2014" released this week, it was estimated that, of the 107,800 people thought to be living with HIV in the UK, 24 percent are unaware of their infection. While HIV testing facilities are improved—there is now 88 percent coverage across STI clinics in the UK, and early diagnosis is the best way of managing the virus—late diagnosis is still high, with 57 percent of the 6,000 or so diagnoses made last year being delayed due to infrequent testing. Education is still key to stopping the spread of HIV, no matter how mad your church might get at you for learning it.

Follow Joel Golby on ​Twitter