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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?

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.

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