First HIV TV ad in 40 years will ‘tackle attitudes stuck in the 1980s’

A still from the Terrence Higgins Trust advert in which a woman looks discouraged in a hospital room.

The first HIV awareness TV advert to air in Scotland in 40 years aims to tackle ignorance and discrimination against people living with the virus.

The advertising campaign, headed by the Terence Higgins Trust, will send the message that “stigma is more harmful than HIV” by informing the public that a diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.

It is the first TV ad on HIV awareness since since the UK government’s ‘Don’t Die Of Ignorance’ campaign, which featured falling tombstones four decades ago.

Since the height of the pandemic in the 1980s, leaps in medical treatment have allowed those living with the virus to suppress it to undetectable levels using medicine.

However, the Terrence Higgins Trust says the UK public is generally unaware that medical treatment has progressed significantly since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to data collected by YouGov, only 35 per cent of people in Scotland would be happy to kiss someone living with the virus despite the fact that the infection cannot spread through saliva.

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Additionally, nearly half of people in Scotland would be ashamed to tell others they were living with HIV.

Stigma surrounding HIV is ‘devastating’

“The government’s AIDS awareness advert in the 1980s undoubtedly saved lives, but it also cast a long shadow by terrifying a generation about HIV,” Richard Angell, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said.

“Our new film is based on the direct experiences of people living with HIV in Scotland who shared how much of a challenge the stigma still surrounding HIV is in their day-to-day lives.

“Alongside all the good news about HIV today, we knew we had to show how devastating HIV-related stigma can be for those directly impacted.

The advert will first air at 7:58 on Monday (16 October) just before Coronation Street on STV.

It will feature “powerful depictions” of stigma based on real experiences that Terrence Higgins Trust have been informed about, including a father pulling his hand away from his daughter who says she is HIV positive.

It concludes with a message reading: “Stigma is more harmful than HIV.”

(Terrence Higgins Trust)

“I hope millions will see our advert in the weeks ahead and be motivated to learn the facts and ditch the fiction about HIV,” Angell said.

In 2022, the number of heterosexual people newly diagnosed with the virus was higher than gay and bisexual men in Scotland for the first time in 15 years, according to Public Health Scotland.

Jenni Minto, the public health minister for the Scottish government, said that the campaigns of the 1980s have left a “damaging” legacy of stereotypes and misconceptions.

“Forty years ago, an HIV diagnosis was regarded as a death sentence,” Minto continued. “Today people with the virus are able to live long, happy and healthy lives thanks to effective treatment.

“This [advert campaign] will play an important role in achieving our commitment to eliminate new transmissions of HIV in Scotland by 2030.”

To learn more about HIV and AIDS research, testing and treatment, visit amFAR or the Terrence Higgins Trust.