Just one third of Brits know the facts about HIV transmission, newly released research from Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading sexual health charity, and YouGov has revealed.
The data was published on 9 August to coincide with a pivotal moment in Eastenders’ ongoing HIV storyline, which saw Zack Hudson (James Farrar) being told by doctors that the medication he is taking to suppress the virus means he cannot pass it on to others.
This will likely be a learning curve for many viewers as the research found just 36 per cent of Brits know that someone living with HIV and on effective treatment can’t pass the virus on.
In fact, less than one in five people (18 per cent) said they would be comfortable having sex with someone living with HIV who is on effective treatment, despite there being zero risk of the virus being transmitted.
EastEnders is also busting myths surrounding having children as someone living with HIV given that Zack and his partner Whitney Dean (Shona McGarty) are now able to try for a baby due to his undetectable viral load.
This is pivotal given that less than half (47 per cent) of Brits correctly know that someone living with HIV can have children who are HIV-negative.
Attitudes about HIV appear to be stuck in the 1980s
The research also found shocking levels of HIV stigma that suggest attitudes are still stuck in the 1980s, a time when little was known about the virus.
Four in 10 (42 per cent) of respondents said they would be comfortable dating someone living with HIV, while around a third (35 per cent) would be comfortable kissing someone who is HIV positive.
The team at Terrence Higgins Trust worked closely with EastEnders on the storyline to ensure it accurately depicts what it is like to live with HIV in 2023.
Its impact has already been felt, as Terrence Higgins Trust saw a 75 per cent increase in people visiting its website after Zack was diagnosed with HIV on screen in January.
The most popular pages were how HIV is transmitted, stages of HIV infection, symptoms of HIV and post-exposure prophylaxis, the charity told GAY TIMES at the time.
“Doctor said that my viral load is way down. And I am undetectable!”
Look what it means to him! pic.twitter.com/i0FvACD9we
— Terrence Higgins Trust (@THTorguk) August 8, 2023
In addition to this, the research found that 39 per cent of Brits are aware of Mark Fowler (David Scarboro/Todd Carty) being diagnosed with HIV on EastEnders – a figure that rose to 66 per cent of 45-56 year olds surveyed.
The storyline is hugely significant when it comes to tackling HIV stigma as one in five people surveyed (21 per cent) said they learned about the virus through TV and film.
“Zack being told he is undetectable and that he can’t pass on HIV is a landmark moment”
“Zack being told he is undetectable and that he can’t pass on HIV is a landmark moment that shows just how much HIV has changed since Mark Fowler’s diagnosis in the 1980s,” Dr Kate Nambiar, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said.
“The brilliant thing about soaps is that we don’t just see the immediate aftermath of Zack’s diagnosis, but also the characters learning about the realities of HIV in 2023 and Zack living a normal life which HIV is just a small part of.
“Our new research shows just why this storyline is so important with low levels of knowledge resulting in high levels of stigma and discrimination.
“We hope that EastEnders’ millions of viewers watch the storyline, learn the facts and see that there is absolutely no reason not to kiss, date or have sex with people living with HIV.”
The charity’s ‘Can’t Pass It On’ campaign exists as a way of raising awareness about how much medical progress has been made in preventing the transmission of HIV.
Approximately 2,088 adults were surveyed online by YouGov on 1 and 2 August as part of the research.
The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).