Stigma and a lack of understanding around HIV still exists decades after the first cases of illness and death, new research has suggested.
Just a third of people who took part in the UK-wide survey said they fully agreed they have sympathy for all people living with HIV, regardless of how they got it.
The findings of the UK’s HIV rights charity the National Aids Trust and Fast-Track Cities London were described as “intolerable” by the trust’s chief executive, who called for the Government to do more to raise awareness among the public.
HIV – human immunodeficiency virus – damages the cells in a person’s immune system and can cause Aids.
Researchers acknowledged that while HIV stigma is complex, the key themes that emerged related to the link between HIV and broader taboo behaviours such as sex without condoms, a poor knowledge of how the virus can be transmitted, and homophobia – with many people still having a strong association between HIV and the LGBT community.
Their findings showed that just 16% of people were aware HIV treatment stops the virus from being transmitted, and only a quarter knew there is medication available to prevent someone from acquiring HIV (PreP).
In more positive findings, the majority of respondents (85%) agreed that people with HIV deserve the same level of support and respect as people with any other long-term health condition.
Participants also believed that HIV is no longer a “death sentence” and felt this was a result of improved treatment, the survey found.
Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, said there is more work to be done to improve knowledge and attitudes.
She said: “It’s intolerable 40 years into the HIV epidemic, HIV remains a highly stigmatised and misunderstood heath condition.
“Outdated and harmful beliefs about HIV perpetuate stigma, discrimination and shame prevent people from taking care of their sexual health or from taking HIV tests.”