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Over 90 percent of the british public do not fully understand how hiv is transmitted

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The National AIDS Trust announces today [17 January], findings from their Public Attitudes Towards HIV Survey, which shows more than 1 out of 5 people in the UK cannot identify each of the main ways in which HIV is transmitted.  And only 6 per cent surveyed were able to correctly identify all of the ways HIV was transmitted, without any false responses.

The survey, the third of its kind since 2000, was conducted by Ipsos MORI of a representative sample of the British population, to determine people’s attitudes to and understanding of HIV. 

Poor Knowledge of HIV
The survey also revealed fewer people in 2007 are able to identify each of the correct ways in which HIV is transmitted than did so in 2000.    Over a fifth (21 per cent) did not identify unprotected sex between a man and a woman as a way of contracting HIV. In 2000 just 9 per cent did not identify this route.   In 2007 over a quarter of British people (26 per cent) did not know that unprotected sex between two men is a way of contracting HIV (this was 12 per cent in the 2000 survey).

And 31 per cent of people did not state that sharing a syringe when injecting drugs carries a risk of HIV (this was 12 per cent in the 2000 survey).  Five per cent of people wrongly believe you can catch HIV through spitting.
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, says;

"In recent years we have witnessed knowledge and understanding about HIV decline at the same time that HIV diagnoses have reached an all time high.  By 2010 there will be over 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK if current trends continue. 

We cannot afford to be complacent about HIV education. Ignorance about HIV increases vulnerability to infection and also contributes to stigma and discrimination.  The Government must re-invest in educating the public about HIV.” 

A third (33 per cent) of the British public state that they do not know enough about the risks of HIV, indicating an openness to further information.

Mixed Messages on HIV Stigma
Stigma surrounding HIV continues to be an issue today with 71 per cent of people agreeing more needs to be done to tackle prejudice against people living with HIV.

Whilst there is support for people living with HIV (over two-thirds of people saying if a family member or neighbour was HIV positive it would not affect their relationship) a culture of blame is evident in attitudes towards people living with HIV.  Almost half (48 per cent) state people who become infected with HIV through unprotected sex only have themselves to blame. 

Deborah Jack added;
“The British public reveal a mix of attitudes to HIV in this survey. Whilst the majority of people say they would be supportive of someone they know who became infected with HIV, there remains a culture of blame that would never be associated with any other illness.

It is important to stress that non-stigmatising attitudes are now ‘majority behaviour’, and this will be encouraging for the tens of thousands of people living with HIV across the country. 

But it only takes a few prejudiced people to cause real problems for individuals. We need a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards HIV stigma at every level.  Knowledge is our best weapon against stigma and discrimination.”

Condom Use 
Encouragingly, the survey found a big increase in just two years in the percentage of people who would only stop using condoms in a relationship ‘once we’ve both been tested for sexually transmitted infections and HIV’, up from 12% in 2005 to 24% in 2007, suggesting recent sexual health campaigns have had some impact. However 24 per cent state they do not use a condom with a new sexual partner as a matter of course (only sometimes, rarely or never), suggesting we still have a long way to go in valuing our own sexual health.

Notes to the Editor:

For more information contact:
National AIDS Trust Press Office
0207 8146733 or

1 - The ‘correct’ HIV transmission routes shown to respondents in the 2007 survey were: ‘Sex without a condom between a man and a woman’; ‘Sex without a condom between two men’; ‘Blood transfusion’; ‘Sharing a syringe when injecting drugs’; and ‘From a breast feeding mother to her child’.

2 - It must be noted that in the 2007 survey, respondents were presented with the answer option ‘Once we have both been tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV’. The 2005 survey presented respondents with a slightly abbreviated version ‘Once we have both been tested for STIs and HIV’ therefore the results are not strictly comparable.

National AIDS Trust

The National AIDS Trust (NAT) is the UK's leading independent policy and campaigning voice on HIV and AIDS. It aims to prevent the spread of HIV, encourage early diagnosis, ensure people living with HIV have access to treatment and care, and eradicate HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

Public Attitudes to HIV 2007

The survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI between 15th and 22nd November, 2007.  A nationally representative quota sample of 1,981 adults aged 16 and over was interviewed throughout Great Britain. Data have been weighted to the known population profile of Great Britain.
Full results of the survey are available for download from

This important research was made possible because of funds raised from the Concert for Diana, organised by Prince William and Prince Harry to mark the tenth anniversary of their mother's death and to celebrate her life and many achievements.

HIV in the UK

At the end of 2006 73,000 people were living with HIV in the UK. There were 7,800 new infections in 2006.  Estimates suggest one in three infections in the UK are undiagnosed. 
[Health Protection Agency, Testing Times: HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Infection in the United Kingdom, 2007]