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Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 00:33 GMT


Many HIV gays unaware of infection

Gay men are still facing discrimination over HIV

A third of HIV-positive gay men do not know they are carrying the virus, according to anonymous surveys.

The information for the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) is being used as part of a new Aids campaign by the Terrence Higgins Trust charity.

Ford Hickson of Sigma Research, which conducted the surveys for the PHLS, said: "About one in 10 gay men who have not been diagnosed with HIV decide to risk unprotected sex with a new partner each year.

"Many do so expecting that if their partner were infected with HIV then that partner would know it.

"Most don't recognise that if their partner is infected there's a one in three chance that they would not know themselves."

Anti-testing

The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) says the problem is due to the British attitude to testing.

Unlike other countries, such as Australia, the UK has not heavily promoted testing, preferring to let individuals make their own decision.

In the early days, says the THT, many felt that the benefits of knowing HIV status outweighed the disadvantages, such as discrimination.

It is only in the last two years that treatments have come online which have reduced the death rate from Aids.

Colin Dixon, assistant director of operations in the gay men's division of THT, said the surveys only showed reluctance to test.

THT's research shows behaviour has changed significantly since the 1980s and that gay men are continuing to practise safer sex.

"Britain has always been very neutral about testing," he said.

Part of the reason was discrimination, he stated. For example, Britain has no legislation to protect employees from losing their job if they revealed their HIV status.

Stigma to blame

THT still heard of cases of people being run out of their homes because of prejudice against people with HIV and HIV-positive children were still being excluded from schools.

"There is no doubt there is still a lot of stigma about," said Mr Dixon.

THT is not in favour of mandatory testing, but believes people need to be given information in order to make a decision on the pros and cons.

The charity's "What's on your mind" campaign, which lasts for three months, involves advertising in style and gay media, on the London Underground and, for the first time, on the Manchester trams.

It is targeting London, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester, the six main cities in England which have the highest incidence of HIV among gay and bisexual men.

There will also be back-up material including condom packs, posters and postcards.





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