New polling reveals 45% of gay and lesbian Brits would feel ‘uncomfortable’ having sex with someone with HIV and on effective treatment despite zero risk of transmission
On the anniversary of Terry Higgins’ death (July 4) – one of the first people to die of an AIDS-related illness – a new survey shows that attitudes around HIV remain stuck in the 1980s.
This comes despite huge medical progress in the fight against HIV since Terry’s death in 1982, including that people living with the virus and on effective treatment can’t pass it on – with or without a condom.
However, the new survey from HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) shows that under half (47%) of gay and lesbian Brits are still not aware of this stigma-busting fact. This compares with 23% of bisexual respondents.
While 68% of gay and lesbian Brits were comfortable going on a date with someone living with HIV, 45% still said they would feel uncomfortable having sex with someone living with HIV who is on effective treatment.
In the UK 97% of those diagnosed and on treatment are virally suppressed, which means levels of virus in the blood are so low that they can’t pass on HIV.
Medical Director at THT and National Advisor for LGBT Health at NHS England, Dr Michael Brady said: “In just a couple of decades effective treatment means a HIV diagnosis has gone from a virtual death sentence to where we are now saying with confidence – and without doubt – that people living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners.”
He added: “Had this effective treatment been available when Terry was diagnosed, he would have been alive and living a healthy life today.”
The YouGov survey also revealed that stigmatising attitudes are the lowest among gay people. When asked about feeling comfortable kissing someone living with HIV, 20% of gay and lesbian Brits said they would feel uncomfortable compared to 48% of the general population.
There is no risk of getting HIV through kissing, sharing utensils or other day to day contact.
Today the charity – set up by Terry Higgins’ partner and close friends – has launched a campaign to tackle out of date beliefs about how HIV is passed on in an effort to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with the virus.
It takes inspiration from one of the charity’s campaigns from the 1990s showing a couple being intimate and the tagline It’s that condom moment.
While condoms remain the best way to prevent all sexually transmitted infections, the message has changed to one with the power to transform the lives of those with HIV– people living with HIV and on effective treatment can’t pass it on.
For the past 20 years, evidence has been building to show that the likelihood of passing on HIV is linked to the amount of virus in the blood, also known as viral load.
Treatment is deemed effective when it reduces this to undetectable levels. This can take up to six months from starting treatment.
The landmark PARTNER and PARTNER 2 studies provide the medical evidence that people with an undetectable viral load cannot pass on HIV.
Dr Michael Brady, continued: “Progress in the treatment for HIV is one of the greatest triumphs of modern medicine. In just a couple of decades effective treatment means a HIV diagnosis has gone from a virtual death sentence to us now saying with confidence – and without doubt – that people living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners.
‘This has an incredible impact on the lives of people living with HIV and is a powerful message to address HIV-related stigma. And while just 19% of Brits know about this progress, we have a duty to keep on shouting about it until everyone knows the truth about HIV.”
Last November, Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven publicly announced during a debate in Parliament last December that he is living with HIV and became the first sitting MP to do so. Part of his motivation for doing this was to provide the public with up-to-date information about HIV.
Lloyd Russel-Moyle MP said: “One of the most empowering things in my life since being diagnosed is knowing that I can’t pass on HIV. I can say with confidence that effective treatment means I can’t transmit HIV to my sexual partner and I have a perfectly healthy life, which is absolutely transformative.
“During my speech in November when I disclosed to the world I was living with HIV, I said this news should go totally unnoticed but it didn’t. The stigma surrounding HIV is still far too high and that’s why we need to double our efforts to stamp out misinformation about HIV.
“I am very proud to support THT in its ‘Can’t Pass It On’ campaign. If everyone knew this simple yet transformative fact we could end the stigma and end the fear that many people still have towards HIV. I’m living proof that HIV in no way holds you back in life and this is something to celebrate.”
Sadiq Ali is living with HIV and is part of Terrence Higgins Trust’s new stigma busting campaign as she feels passionately about educating others about the realities of living with the virus.
Sadiq said: “Knowing I can’t pass on HIV opens up a world where I’m ok to be HIV positive and still have sexual relationships, both casual and intimate ones – without HIV being a barrier.
“The Can’t Pass It On campaign gives me as a HIV positive person a very easy way to inform and educate. Without getting too specific, it gives me a way to describe a massive progress we’ve made that’s almost unknown. It will interest and educate someone who’s not otherwise interested in HIV.”
For more information about the Can’t Pass It On campaign, click here:
Or follow the #CantPassItOn hashtag on social media.