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How’s your HIV knowledge?

July 4th, 2007

Dr Petra

A report out today from Terrence Higgins Trust suggests that HIV awareness is poor, particularly among young people. A survey for the charity indicated
20% of 15-24 year olds wrongly believed HIV could be cured
25% thought condoms contained holes through which the HIV virus could pass
1 in 10 incorrectly assumed you could catch HIV through kissing

Some respondents also thought you could catch HIV through sharing cutlery or from another person’s sweat.

The survey was commissioned to mark 25 years since Terry Higgins died, and a spokesperson for the charity stated “It’s frightening that 25 years after Terry Higgins’ death, this level of confusion exists. The lack of good sex education means many young people are leaving school ignorant about HIV and safer sex. HIV is now the fastest growing serious health condition in the UK, and there is no cure. It’s time to get our facts straight.”

The problem around HIV awareness is complex. When HIV/AIDS first became a public concern in the UK during the 1980s we had a number of government campaigns across the media to inform the public about the risks of HIV. Although a lot of confusion and prejudice remained (particularly aimed at gay men), there was an effort to educate the public. Since then, while campaigns and educational programmes have continued, they are not delivered across the board so many people are ignorant about important sexual health issues.

Sex education in schools should cover STIs including HIV, but many young people do not feel that HIV applies to them, or that it is a risk they will face. Condom use may be taught, but often not with the life skills that enable young people to negotiate condom use when in a sexual situation. Many people, regardless of age, have an ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude to STIs and HIV in particular, so they fail to see the need to use condoms. And for some there’s still the incorrect view that HIV is a ‘gay’ disease and so straight folk don’t feel they’re at risk.

HIV remains a growing problem within the UK and we need to tackle it on a number of levels. Obviously having high quality sex education as a mandatory part of the school curriculum is vital. Addressing misleading information delivered via some religious groups (for example that condoms all have holes in) must be addressed. Giving young people and adults the life skills to negotiate their way safely and positively through our increasingly sexualised culture is another area we must cover, as well as making our sex advice positive – so it’s not just about saying no or simply ‘use a condom’. It needs to cover all the questions people have so they can stay safe, and enjoy healthy, happy and sexy relationships.

If you’re interested in participating in an HIV study click here.

And if you fancy testing your own HIV knowledge the charity AVERT has a number of tests you can try.

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