'With education, we can put an end to HIV'

19th July 2014 at 07:00
Anyone born before 1980 will remember the terrifying image: a hammer and chisel gouging four letters into a black tombstone, driven by a soundtrack seemingly borrowed from A Nightmare on Elm Street and John Hurt’s sonorous warning that ignorance “could be the death of you”.

That 1986 British public-information film about Aids was as successful as it was alarming. The world’s first major government-sponsored drive to raise awareness was much imitated and has been credited with keeping UK rates of HIV lower than in other countries.

But today's generation of teenagers does not perceive HIV as such a threat. A recent survey by MAC Aids Fund reveals that one third of 12- to 17-year-olds in the UK did not realise that they could contract HIV through unprotected sex.

So the release of new resources – designed for the Scottish curriculum but with materials that can be applied universally – is timely. They are part of Always Hear, the first government-funded HIV campaign in Scotland since the early 1990s, which is run by Edinburgh-based charity Waverley Care and supported by singer Annie Lennox.

"Many teachers may remember when HIV dominated the headlines in the 1980s and early 1990s, but for young people today, it has fallen off their radar,” said chief executive Grant Sugden. "It is a lack of education about HIV that means new infections continue unnecessarily. With education, we can put an end to HIV, and this all starts in the classroom."

There are about 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK, 6,000 of whom are in Scotland. Huge advances in medicine mean that a near-normal life expectancy is now possible, especially with early diagnosis. The new resources have been prepared in the knowledge, however, that HIV is still dogged by myths and confusion.

"Sadly, people’s lack of knowledge and information means that HIV stigma is still a huge issue,” said Mr Sugden. "Our campaign gives people living with HIV a voice as four films capture the experiences of four people who are HIV positive. They are true stories, told by the people themselves about what it’s really like living with HIV in the UK."


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