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Tuesday, April 13, 1999 Published at 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK

Thousands ignore Aids threat

The safer sex message does not seem to be getting through

Thousands of adults are still having unsafe sex and have not changed their lifestyle because of Aids, according to a MORI poll.

This is despite the fact that new HIV infections reached their highest annual toll in 1998.

Some 2,828 people in the UK were diagnosed with HIV during 1998.

The survey for the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) charity also shows that 20% of people think there is a cure for Aids.

The poll of over 2,000 adults in England aged 15 and over looked at attitudes to HIV and Aids.

When asked about safer sex, only around half of those entering a new relationship said they would use a condom.

However, a third said they would not enter a new relationship, possibly because they were in long-term relationships.

Five per cent would abstain from sex.

And 11% said they would insist a new partner be tested.

Another 11% would ask a partner to be tested, but would leave the decision to them and 10% would have a test themselves.

This means around one in 14 are having unsafe sex when they start a new relationship, says MORI.

Lifestyle changes

Three quarters of those questioned said they had not changed their lifestyle because of Aids.

One in five adults had had casual sex in the UK in the last 10 years, with one in 10 having it abroad.

[ image: Teenagers need more information about HIV, says the THT]
Teenagers need more information about HIV, says the THT
Three per cent of those who had casual sex in the UK had never used a condom, compared with 1% who had one night stands abroad.

Young people aged 15 to 24 were more likely to have made some alterations to their lifestyle because of HIV, but were also more likely to admit that they did not know enough about the risks of infection.

The THT says this suggests that education needs to be targeted more at younger age groups, who may have missed out on publicity drives in the 1980s.

Despite more than a decade of Aids education, 85% of people still thought there was a social stigma attached to the condition.


Nick Partridge: concern about lack of lifestyle changes
Lisa Power, assistant director of health promotion at THT, said the poll showed a need to continue general education about HIV and to target certain groups.

It also suggested more work needed to be done with women, particularly young girls, to give them the confidence to negotiate safer sex.

"It may be that they feel uncomfortable asking a partner to wear a condom. Sometimes, they may equate not using a condom with commitment and they may think that talking about sex before doing it means they are promiscuous," she said.

She added that people coming out of long-term monogamous relationships were among those most at risk.

"It is like being a young teenager again," she said.

[ image: Nick Partridge: 'HIV is a fact of life']
Nick Partridge: 'HIV is a fact of life'
More information was also needed on treatments for HIV, she stated, since some people appeared to confuse combination therapy with a cure for Aids.

"The therapy is not a cure and people have to take them for life. It is not like having a little virus and taking an antibiotic for a couple of weeks."

Nick Partridge, chief executive of the THT, said the poll showed the need to guard against complacency about Aids.

"HIV is a fact of life," he said.

The poll marks the relaunching of the THT. Following its merger with four regional Aids organisation, it claims to be the biggest charity of its kind in Europe.

Since 1982, at least 40,000 people have been infected with HIV in the UK and around 13,000 have died from Aids.

A fifth of people with HIV contract it through heterosexual sex, although gay men are still the highest risk group.

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