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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 07:30 GMT
HIV ignorance still common in UK
Image of men and a condom
Government ads promoting safer sex will begin in the Spring
HIV/Aids still carries a high level of stigma and misunderstanding in the UK despite education programmes, a survey has found.

A fifth of the UK public agreed that: "It is people's own fault if they get HIV/Aids".

One in 10 believes the virus can be caught by kissing.

Marie Stopes International, who commissioned NOP to carry out the survey of about 2,000 adults, said the results were shocking.

Aids does not discriminate - people do
Patricia Hindmarsh from Marie Stopes International

Almost one quarter (23%) said that drug users who contracted the virus through infected needles should be denied free treatment on the NHS.

A further 26% agreed that people should have the right to know who in their community has HIV/Aids.

Others were confused about how the virus can be caught.

Some 5% thought you could catch HIV by eating with the same cutlery as someone who has the virus, and 4% thought you could get it from a toilet seat.

Ros Davies of Interact Worldwide, which worked with MSI on the survey, said the findings showed many people also still mistakenly perceived HIV/Aids as a disease affecting only minority groups, such gay men, drug users and prostitutes.

"The reality is that HIV/Aids should be an issue of concern to us all, especially young people.

"The latest figures from the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS show that HIV infection is now the fastest growing serious health condition in the UK and many other countries across the globe, where women are particularly at risk of becoming HIV positive.

"It's clearly no longer the 'minority' disease it once was."

'Shocking'

MSI's Patricia Hindmarsh said: "A high proportion of respondents - 60% - agreed that they would have more sympathy for a person who contracts HIV/Aids through a blood transfusion than from having promiscuous sex.

"This is particularly shocking as it shows that people are making judgements and assigning 'blameworthiness' in their response to the disease.

"Aids doesn't discriminate - people do."

She said a new government funded campaign that tackled both public awareness and addressed the stigma that still surrounds HIV/Aids was needed.

"The last significant national public campaign was in the mid 80s and two generations of young people have become sexually active since then.

"This should be seen as a major priority."

Last week, the government announced a 300m campaign to tackle HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in the UK. Fifty million pounds of this will go on an advertising campaign for under 25s.

It promises to be the most high-profile of its kind since the hard-hitting HIV advertisements in the 1980s, which featured TV commercials showing tombstones engraved with the words "Don't die of ignorance".


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