POLITICS Luciana Berger
The UK has some of the best clinical outcomes for people living with HIV in the world. More people are receiving care and the once universally fatal virus now has become a more long-term, manageable condition.
Yet, despite improvements in how we treat HIV, work to prevent it has not kept up. The number of people living with HIV in the UK has reached more than 100,000 for the first time, and a quarter of those are unaware they have it. It’s time that ministers made prevention a national priority.
A National AIDS Trust survey revealed the scale of the problem – more than half of the British public don’t understand how HIV is transmitted. Even more concerning is this lack of awareness could be getting worse. The number of people who think you can get HIV from impossible routes such as coughing or sneezing has gone up by 20% since 2010.
We urgently need leadership from government at national and local levels to address the stigma surrounding HIV, so that people feel able to talk about it, ask questions and access testing without fear. The most affected young people and groups, including gay and bisexual men, are still not receiving adequate information about the dangers of HIV. We need to improve education, so I’m delighted that Labour has committed to making sex and relationship education compulsory in every school.
Under this government’s unwanted reorganisation of the NHS, HIV has been separated from other sexual health services, which has reduced the quality of provision in some areas. It’s not acceptable that young people will get a markedly worse service because of their postcodes.
Some of the best programmes around the country already show us what can be achieved when the will is there. It is the government’s job to make sure that these are not the exception, but the norm by making this a priority and sending a strong message – prevention is always better than cure.
As rates of new HIV infections continue to rise, we ask whether
politicians do enough to educate the youth, or if it’s being left to the
MEDIA Bryan Kirkwood
Ste’s story had been pitched a couple of times before and I was always nervous or hesitant to tell a story about a young gay man that reinforced a decades-old stigma – that HIV is a gay disease.
But then I started looking at the facts and the realisation that highest rising rates in 2012 were among gay men (newer statistics released in November are even more worrying) and felt that by avoiding the subject, we were doing our audience a disservice – a generation of young people who didn’t think HIV was to do with them and a generation of young gay men who, through lack of sex education, could be at risk.
When we tell stories like this, the lead-in time can stretch into months and years, and during that time a very good friend of mine was diagnosed. My friend, who is gay, had taken risks because he thought HIV had gone away. While we’re not making a judgment on anyone’s lifestyle choices, we want people to be fully armed with the facts to make informed decisions.
I find it incredibly disappointing that sex and relationship education is limited and sometimes none existent in British schools. I was brought up by my gay dad in the 80s, when Section 28 made it impossible for me to talk about my home life or my dad’s status at school. It’s not an exaggeration to say social services would’ve investigated what was actually a happy, warm and brilliant home life. While Section 28 is a distant memory, thank God, I believe it casts a long shadow and that resistance to discussing gay relationships and sexuality in the classroom still pervades, creating ignorance and fear.
HIV may not be a death sentence anymore, but it can seriously limit or alter the quality of your health if you’re not diagnosed and receiving treatment.
Online support accompanies every episode of Hollyoaks and what’s evident from the feedback is that, for some young people, Hollyoaks and other soaps are the only access they’re getting to responsible sex and relationship education.
Luciana is Labour and Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree and
Shadow Minister for Public Health. She tweets @lucianaberger.
Bryan is Hollyoaks’ executve producer. Updates and latest news
about the show can be read @Hollyoaks.