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BBC uncovers worrying levels of ignorance about HIV in UK youth

February 12, 2009

A survey conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has found a worrying level of ignorance and complacency about HIV among young people in the UK.

The survey of 1,500 people aged 16 to 64 was conducted online in May of this year. Of particular interest to the BBC were the answers given by young people, many of whom missed out on the major ‘Don’t Die Of Ignorance’ campaign that raised awareness on AIDS in the 1980s. The survey found that among 16 to 24 year old, nine out of ten rarely or never thought about HIV when making decisions about their sex lives. Seventy-four percent demonstrated incorrect knowledge about HIV when asked, with 55% thinking HIV could be spread through kissing, and just under half believing that you could get HIV from a toilet seat. Yet many didn’t realise their own level of ignorance about the disease – just 26% of the young people surveyed said they did not feel sufficiently informed about the transmission and prevention of HIV.

While online surveys can sometimes be unreliable (there is no way of ensuring that people give true rather than ‘joke’ answers for example), if accurate, the results of the BBC survey paint an exceedingly worrying picture of the quality of information that young people are receiving about HIV. They also show a marked increase in ignorance on previous surveys carried out by the National AIDS Trust. A 2006 poll of 2048 people of all ages conducted by NAT found that only 4% of respondents thought HIV could be transmitted via kissing and only 2% thought that toilet seats posed a risk.

The survey results coincide with the launch of a new BBC campaign to raise awareness of HIV among young people. The two month campaign, developed by BBC Learning in partnership with the AIDS organisation THT, is designed to address HIV ignorance through a series of TV and radio programmes, and a fun, interactive website where users can create their own virtual action figure called ‘GI Jonny’.
"Levels of ignorance about HIV are at an all-time high among the age group most likely to catch a sexually transmitted infection,” Elizabeth McKay, Project Executive at BBC Learning explained. “Young people told us they needed practical information about HIV that they could share with mates. GI Jonny is fun, always prepared for action, and fully armed with the facts about HIV."

HIV diagnoses have been rising steadily over the last 10 years in Britain, following a significant decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which many have attributed to the hard-hitting “Don’t Die Of Ignorance” campaign. It is estimated that 70,000 people are now living with HIV in the UK, with up to a third unaware that they have the virus. The risk of becoming infected with HIV is therefore greater than it has ever been, and THT estimate that at the current rate of increase, over 400,000 people in the UK could have HIV by 2032.

Tags: BBC, kissing, transmission, National AIDS Trust, NAT, GI Jonny


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