Living with HIV in the UK has changed dramatically since the condition first appeared in the 1980s. Yet despite the incredible progress that has been made, misinformation and ignorance about HIV persists. An Ipsos Mori poll commissioned by NAT in 2014 found that almost a third of the public still mistakenly believe that HIV can be transmitted via routes such as spitting, kissing or sharing a glass, and that belief in myths about HIV is actually increasing. So if you’re discussing HIV with students, colleagues or friends this World AIDS Day, make sure you’re up to speed.
#1. Effective treatment means that HIV can’t be transmitted
HIV treatment means if you are diagnosed in good time and take your medication as prescribed, your life expectancy is just the same as the general population. But, as well as the enormous benefit of treatment to the health of the individual, there is also another fantastic benefit of treatment - when someone living with HIV is responding well to treatment and the virus is suppressed to a very low level, they can be confident that they cannot transmit the virus to anyone else.[i] 93% of people who are diagnosed with HIV in the UK have suppressed viral loads[ii].
#2. There’s a new pill that can prevent you from acquiring HIV
Condoms are an important prevention tool against HIV and other STIs, but they aren’t always right for everyone all the time. There is a new pill called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) that you can take daily to protect yourself from HIV. By the end of 2017, PrEP will be available for free on the NHS to those who need it most in Scotland and Wales, and through a national impact trial in England.[iii]
#3. For the first time, HIV transmissions amongst gay and bisexual men are falling
By encouraging more people to test and to test more frequently, rapidly treating those diagnosed with HIV, and through people buying themselves PrEP online, we are now seeing HIV transmissions falling significantly amongst gay and bisexual men in London for the first time in thirty years.[iv] We now have the tools to end HIV, but it’s crucial that we ensure there is ongoing political will and investment to end HIV everywhere in the UK and for all those at risk of HIV, including in other communities disproportionately affected by HIV such as migrant communities.
#4. People living with HIV continue to face stigma and discrimination
For the more than 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK, ignorance and discrimination can still limit opportunities, preventing them from living full and happy lives. Living with HIV means you are more likely to live in poverty, and more likely to have poor mental health. Many people living with HIV worry about disclosing their status to others, and some experience stigmatising and discriminatory attitudes when they do – including from their family, employers and healthcare workers.[v]
#5. Schools can play an important role in ending the negative impact of HIV
With statutory RSE on the horizon, there’s never been a better time to ensure that your school is providing high-quality HIV education as part of RSE and PSHE. Teaching young people about HIV not only helps them to protect themselves from HIV, but also helps them to challenge stigma wherever they see it. It’s also important to recognise that there may be children affected by HIV in your class. We’d recommend guidance from CHIVA on becoming an ‘HIV-Friendly School’ and DO…SRE for support and resources for creating a holistic and engaging curriculum. You can also use our school resources to help students learn key facts about HIV and what they can do to end the negative impact of HIV.
[ii] Public Health England (2017) Towards elimination of HIV transmission, AIDS and HIV-related deaths in the UK: 2017 report
[iv] For more information, see NAT’s press release ‘HIV rates plummet in new data but not good news for everyone says NAT’
[v] Stigma Survey UK (2015) ‘The People Living With HIV Stigma Survey UK 2015 National findings’