In the past decade, there has been a significant decline in public knowledge of how HIV is transmitted. In the same period, the number of damaging myths and misconceptions has increased. There has been no positive change in public attitudes towards HIV, and a significant minority of the public still hold stigmatising and discriminatory views about people with the virus.
Public education plays a vital role in helping people understand the facts about HIV and the unacceptability of HIV stigma and discrimination. Ultimately, greater public understanding will also lead to lower levels of HIV transmission and a more supportive society for people living with HIV.
Tellingly, there has been no real investment in educating the public about HIV and recent sexual health campaigns – especially those aimed at young people – have made no mention of it at all. Young people rarely learn about HIV in schools, where sex education is still not compulsory and remains, in some areas, extremely limited.
The media, meanwhile, very rarely write about HIV and when they do they often serve to perpetuate myths and misunderstanding through sensationalist language or misreporting of the facts.
There have been significant changes and developments in recent years around HIV testing, treatment and life expectancy of people with HIV, although these are not widely understood.
HIV remains largely invisible in our society. This is partly because treatment has improved so much that people with HIV are living longer and staying healthy. However, it is also because many people with HIV do not find it easy to be open about their HIV status. Stigmatising and discriminatory attitudes among the general public play a significant role in this.
NAT believes that, alongside targeted prevention campaigns aimed at the communities most at risk of HIV, there is a need for everybody in the UK to have a basic knowledge about HIV and the realities of living with HIV. For more detail on NAT’s thinking around public awareness and HIV click here.
The power of the media to communicate news and information, to influence opinions and raise awareness, means that it can be a very valuable tool in the fight against HIV. However inaccurate stories can perpetuate myths, and create confusion and misunderstanding.
Accurate media coverage is therefore vital in terms of tackling the discrimination experienced by people living with HIV and helping to prevent the spread of the virus.
NAT has produced a number of resources to help journalists make sure that the articles they write contain accurate information about HIV, are not misleading and do not encourage negative perceptions about HIV.
It's very important that the next generation can safeguard their own sexual health and help to break down the stigma and discrimination around HIV. We produce information and resources to help schools teach about HIV across a range of curriculum subjects.
We are also part of the Sex Education Forum, which is campaigning to make sex and relationships education a compulsory part of the school curriculum.
Public knowledge and attitudes
Ignorance about HIV increases vulnerability to infection and also contributes to stigma and discrimination.
We undertake research to find out about the level of public understanding of HIV and current attitudes to HIV among the public and various communities.
World AIDS Day
World AIDS Day provides an important opportunity to engage and educate the public about HIV.
We develop and manage the UK's website for World AIDS Day, which gives people the opportunity to find out the facts and realities of HIV in the UK and participate by taking part in an event, raising money or educating others.
Play your part