Only 1 in 4 gay and bisexual men surveyed agreed there was an HIV epidemic in the UK.
In the run up to World AIDS Day, HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust and YouGov have surveyed over 2000 adults (including 118 gay and bisexual men) in order to gage attitudes, knowledge and understanding around the HIV epidemic in the UK.
What they found were worrying gaps in general health knowledge, specifically how the HIV virus is transmitted, and a majority of gay and bisexual men disagreeing that there was in fact an HIV epidemic in the UK.
Of those gay and bisexual men who took part in THT’s research, 30% believed that sharing a toothbrush with someone who is HIV positive can pass on the virus.
Meanwhile, one in ten gay and bisexual men surveyed believed HIV can be transmitted by kissing.
Both of these assumptions are of course incorrect. The HIV virus cannot survive outside of the body, and can’t be passed via saliva or skin-to-skin contact. These are worrying examples of ‘deeply entrenched’ myths surrounding the virus, despite how much activists and the scientific community now know about the disease.
The research also found that less than half [45%] of gay and bisexual men surveyed were aware that people with HIV can have sex without passing on the virus, if they are on an effective antiretroviral treatment.
Advances in treatment have shown that contracting HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was. Despite that however, only 61% of those THT surveyed believe that people with HIV can live into old age.
“We’ve come a long way since the AIDS crisis first emerged, when the nation was gripped by panic and fear,” explained THT’s chief executive Ian Green.
“Thankfully, we now know far more about how HIV is and is not transmitted, and medical advances now mean HIV doesn’t have to stand in the way of living a long and healthy life.
“But it’s not over – while science has moved on, we can see today that inaccurate myths from the 1980s are still deeply entrenched in society, both in terms of how HIV is transmitted, and what it’s like to live with HIV.
“Misunderstanding of the virus can fuel stigma and cause immense distress for people coming to terms with an HIV diagnosis. Much more needs to be done to bring the British public up to date with what HIV means in 2016.”
The survey also revealed that many gay and bisexual men aren’t aware of the severity of the HIV epidemic in this country, with only one in four [24%] agreeing that there was currently an HIV epidemic. A majority [68%] disagreed.
On World AIDS Day, THT is urging people to wear red ribbons, to show that the fight against HIV is not over and to tackle the last barriers – stigma, and complacency.
“The HIV epidemic is not over in the UK – there are more people living with HIV in the UK today than ever before,” Ian added. “We must not let complacency and misunderstanding undo decades of progress. On World AIDS Day, it’s more important than ever that we’re still fighting, still caring, and still wearing our red ribbons with pride.”
Find out more about World AIDS Day at tht.org.uk/worldaidsday or search #itsnotover.