This weekend marks 30th anniversary of first HIV cases but ignorance is growing, say National AIDS Trust

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

This Sunday 5 June marks 30 years since the first cases of HIV.

Despite many successes in tackling the epidemic, more people than ever are living with HIV in the UK and a significant proportion of the British public still do not know the basic facts around HIV transmission according to the National AIDS Trust (NAT).

One in five people do not realise that HIV can be passed on through sex without a condom and, worryingly, knowledge of this fact has fallen by 11 per cent in the last decade.

Incredibly for 2011, one in ten people incorrectly believe HIV can be transmitted through impossible routes such as kissing (nine per cent) and spitting (10 per cent) and these figures have doubled since 2007 (from four and five per cent respectively).

Chief Executive of NAT, Deborah Jack, said: “Years of HIV is a huge milestone and in this time there have been great strides in HIV treatment, testing and care.  However, as these advances have meant HIV is now a manageable long-term condition and not a death sentence, HIV has largely fallen off the political and public agenda, and knowledge has declined.

“There are now huge gaps in public awareness and understanding of HIV and a significant proportion of the British public are unaware of the basics – such as using a condom – and cannot distinguish between the facts and the myths.”

The 30th anniversary of HIV and these worrying statistics come just days ahead of a UN meeting in New York City where 26 heads of state will meet to discuss progress in tackling the epidemic.

The UK, along with various other countries worldwide, have signed a UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV and AIDS which commits to having a national strategy for combating HIV which addresses stigma, discrimination, human rights, prevention, care, treatment and support.

However, the UK will be attending the UN meeting in breach of international commitments and failing to meet best practice in addressing the epidemic: there is currently no national strategy on HIV in the UK.

NAT is calling on the Government to devise and implement a much-needed national strategy for HIV so that progress in responding to the HIV epidemic in the UK can be made.

Ms Jack said: “It is unacceptable that in 2011 – 30 years after the first cases of HIV – the number of new HIV diagnoses is double what it was 10 years ago, and people living with HIV still face stigma and discrimination. Without a national strategy to tackle these serious health and equality issues, HIV will continue to be silenced and sidelined in the UK. Strategic action will make the difference between progress and failure in the fight against HIV.”