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Public attitudes on HIV are stuck in 1980s, says new data

The Terrence Higgins Trust has revealed the data on the 40th anniversary of Terrence Higgins' death from an Aids-related illness.

By Emily Maskell

Words: Emily Maskell; pictures: Pexels

Data released by the Terrence Higgins Trust reveals that dangerous and stigmatised public perceptions of Aids from the 1980s still linger today.

The charity says the shadow cast by the 1987 UK Government advert titled ‘AIDS: Monolith’, continues to cast a shadow over the modern-day reality of HIV and Aids, which is worlds away from what is depicted. 

In the advert, actor John Hurt narrates over the building of a stone tombstone branded with the underlined word Aids.

Hurt says: “It is a deadly disease and there’s no known cure. The virus can be passed during sexual intercourse with an infected person. If you ignore AIDS, it could be the death of you”.

According to YouGov’s polling data of over 2,000 adults, almost half (48 percent) of people remember the Government’s ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ AIDS awareness campaign, rising to three quarters (76 percent) in 45-54-year-olds and 70 percent in those aged 55 and over.

Today, an HIV diagnosis means something very different than it did in the 1980s; 97 percent of those diagnosed and on treatment in the UK can’t pass HIV on. 

However, only 38 percent of British people know this. 

30 percent of people say they are comfortable dating someone living with HIV, and fewer than 2 in 5 (37 percent) would be comfortable kissing someone who’s HIV-positive.

Similarly, only 21 percent of people say they would be comfortable having sex with someone living with HIV and on effective treatment – despite there being no chance of HIV being passed on.

However, data amongst young people appears more hopeful: the infamous tombstones campaign is less known in people aged 18-24, with only seven percent, and nearly half of this age group (47 percent) are aware that people living with HIV and on effective treatment can’t pass it on.

Prevailing stigma is something the Terrence Higgins Trust – named after Terrence Higgins, who 40 years ago today (4 July) became the first-named British person to die of an Aids-related illness in 1982 – wants to address. 

The charity, formed in the Welshman’s memory, aims to end new HIV cases by 2030 but this new data reveals that outdated perceptions present a challenge to reaching that goal. 

Ian Green, the Chief Executive at the Trust, says “it’s horrifying to see the stigma that still remains all these years on.

“I hope that this anniversary galvanises everyone to push through any complacency around HIV and do the work required to end new cases by 2030,” he continues.

Green also notes that we’re fighting a “different kind of ignorance” compared to the ‘80s, today it’s “an ignorance to all the incredible progress that’s been made.”

Glenda Bonde, Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “An HIV diagnosis has changed since the darkest day of the epidemic in the UK thanks to effective treatment to ensure a long, healthy life.”

“The HIV epidemic continues to be exacerbated by socio-economic inequalities with already marginalised communities bearing the burden.

“Tackling stigma and reshaping the narrative around HIV is absolutely crucial to ending the epidemic and ensuring people living with HIV can thrive – and we all have a part to play in that,” Bonde continues.

The Attitude July/August issue is out now.