Fall in public HIV awareness

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The public’s knowledge of HIV has fallen despite growing numbers of infections, according to the Nationals AIDs Trust (NAT.)

The National AIDS Trust, launched the results of an Ipsos MORI poll today revealing that, despite growing numbers of people infected with HIV, people are often less aware of how HIV is transmitted than they were five years ago.

In London, where there is a higher prevalence of HIV, the level of knowledge about how HIV is transmitted was generally lower than in the rest of the UK.

The survey revealed a nine percentage point drop in the number of people who knew that HIV could be passed on through sex between two men not using a condom, and a twelve percentage drop in the number of people who knew that HIV could be passed on through sex between a man and a woman not using a condom.

A small number of people still held myths about HIV being passed on through spitting (7%), kissing (4%) or toilet seats (2%). And 8% of people had no knowledge about how HIV was transmitted, (up from 2% in 2000).

In addition, the survey showed that a large proportion of people are potentially putting themselves at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Fewer than half the people with a new sexual partner said they would always use a condom with them (46%), and only one in eight people would expect both their partner and themselves to have an HIV or STI test before they stopped using a condom.

The results suggest that around one million people in Great Britain rarely or never use a condom with a new sexual partner.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the NAT said: “We were very shocked to discover that while HIV is increasing in the UK, people know less about the risks of HIV transmission than they did five years ago and continue to practice unsafe sex.

“These results are a wake up call not only because people putting themselves at risk, but also because ignorance about HIV is likely to encourage prejudice and discrimination.”

The survey also showed that people who were fully informed about the risks of HIV transmission were less likely to be prejudiced or discriminatory towards people living with the virus.

According to the World AIDS Day report by EuroHIV, who monitor figures for the whole of Europe, the United Kingdom has seen the largest increase in HIV cases in any country in Western Europe in the last four years.