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Friday, 2 July, 1999, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Aids in the UK

The first advertisement campaigns for Aids were very dramatic
Aids first came to UK attention in the early 1980s and was followed by a widespread media campaign warning the public of the need for "safer sex".

The now notorious TV adverts featured tombstones and a grim reaper and there has been much debate about whether this was helpful or harmful.

Aids Special Report
Some argue that it increased prejudice against those who actually had HIV.

Because of ignorance about what caused Aids, some of the first patients were fed in hospitals by doctors and nurses in masks as if they were untouchables.

Others have had bricks thrown through their windows or faced harassment

The fact that Aids in the UK often affects already vulnerable communities, such as gay men, drug users and refugees, has increased the social stigma attached to it.

People who have seen their entire social circle wiped out by the disease have also had to put up with attacks and prejudice from the general public.

This has led, in the case of gay men, to growing politicisation around the virus.

Dire warnings

At the time of the first Aids advertisements, the argument was that the public needed to be made aware of the potential impact of HIV so that people could protect themselves against it.

However, since that time the dire warnings have not been fulfilled in the dramatic way that the advertisements led people to believe.


Pregnant women are not routinely screened for HIV in the UK
Much of this is due to the work of Aids prevention groups, but they are now becoming worried about general complacency among the public, along with misunderstanding about Aids drugs.

The number of people contracting HIV each year continues to rise and is now at a record high.

A recent survey by the Health Education Authority and the National Aids Trust found that one in six young British people mistakenly believes new HIV treatments can stop the virus being passed on.

Another report by Brook Advisory Centres showed young people were willing to take risks with unsafe sex.

Health workers are becoming increasingly worried about people's confusion over articles about the success of HIV treatments.

A MORI poll for the Terrence Higgins Trust published in April showed that 20% of people thought there was a cure for Aids.

The survey of over 2,000 adults also found that only half of people entering a new relationship would use a condom.

In November, a government report found that as many as two-thirds of HIV positive pregnant women in England and Wales did not know they had the virus.

Even among gay and bisexual men, the most HIV-aware section of the community, 40% of those attending sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics did not know they were positive.

The report was based on anonymous testing in STD and ante-natal clinics.

Because Aids has particularly affected certain sectors of the community, Aids groups have been concentrating on getting safer sex messages through to them as well as informing the general public.

One group which has also been targeted is pregnant women as treatment with anti-Aids drugs has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of passing the virus from mother to baby.

In January, Dr Angus Nicoll of the Public Health Laboratory Service said children were dying needlessly because pregnant women in Britain are not being routinely screened for HIV at ante-natal clinics.

He said other countries like France and the UK had managed to stop many mothers infecting their children with the virus by routinely testing all those who gave their consent.

Combination therapy

Because of the success of combination therapy in recent years, UK Aids groups have had to adapt to treating Aids as a long-term condition rather than a terminal one.

The Terrence Higgins Trust, for example, has set up treatment "buddies" who help people take the tough regime of drugs which they need to keep the virus at bay.

Because the drugs are so expensive, some health authorities have begun reducing their funding of the social care side of Aids.

Manchester health authority, for example, says it is 1.5m short of its overall Aids budget for this year.

It is considering cuts to the social care budget to make up the shortfall.

Aids charities have tried to deal with the funding problems and the changing face of Aids by merging.

In January, five Aids charities announced plans to form a single organisation under the banner of the Terrence Higgins Trust.

The other four charities are regional groups.

They hope merger will lead to a higher standard of service.

In some cases, funding problems have been put down to prejudice.

In February, a report by the National Aids Trust blamed homophobia for the fact that health authorities were spending on average 20% of their HIV prevention budgets on gay men.

They said this was despite the fact that gay men accounted for 60% of new cases.

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