The M∙A∙C AIDS Fund has released the results of a nationwide survey conducted in the United Kingdom to explore teen behaviour, perceptions and awareness of HIV/AIDS. The findings are surprising from uncovering gaps in education and issues surrounding stigma to the fact that the majority of teens do not feel at risk for the disease. Because youths (ages 10-24) are the only population where AIDS death rates are still rising globally, the M∙A∙C AIDS Fund conducted this survey to garner insights leading up to the release of its upcoming HIV/AIDS documentary film, "It's Not Over," produced by award-winning filmmaker Andrew Jenks, designed to reach young people worldwide.
Completed in June 2014 by Kelton Research, the results of the M∙A∙C AIDS Fund survey show that nearly ninety percent (89%) of UK teens believe they are not at risk of contracting HIV or AIDS in their lifetime. When asked which type of behaviour would put their health at risk, less than one third of teens (27%) say this is true of having unprotected sex, and one third (33%) of UK teens do not realise that HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. However, nearly all teens (93%) admit that they'd be nervous to find out they had HIV or AIDS.
In the UK, young people aged 15-to 24-years-old face the highest risk of new HIV infection, according to the Health Protection Agency. New HIV diagnoses among young people are on the increase, and in the last decade, they have risen by nearly 70% among 15-24 year olds, according to the National AIDS Trust.
"The UK has made an impressive contribution to the fight against AIDS, as the second largest global public funder of HIV/AIDS treatment and education abroad, yet it is critical that we don't forget to educate young people within its own borders," said Nancy Mahon, Global Executive Director, M∙A∙C AIDS Fund. "Through this survey and our new documentary, we hope to make HIV/AIDS part of the mainstream conversation so that youths in the UK and beyond become more aware of the disease and stop the spread of the epidemic."
UK teens' lack of awareness of HIV/AIDS may stem from the few opportunities they've had to discuss the disease. In fact according to the survey, nearly half (42%) of UK teens have never talked about HIV/AIDS with anyone, yet more than half (59%) would be open to a conversation if given the opportunity. Not surprisingly, teens who have discussed HIV/AIDS are more knowledgeable than those who have not, understanding HIV is a virus (65% vs. 54%) and that they could be at risk of contracting it as an adult (41% vs. 29%) or teen (17% vs. 11%). When it comes to education, about half (52%) of teens learned about HIV in school, while two-thirds (34%) learned about it on the internet. However, most teens (59%) perceive online information on HIV/AIDS as the most accurate source over their parent (31%) or teacher (21%).
Further education could help minimise stigmas that exist among UK teens, who admit if they were diagnosed with HIV that others might be afraid of them (49%) and would bully them in school (35%). These concerns may stem from their own impression of people living with HIV, as only half (51%) admit they would treat a friend or classmate with HIV normally.
These results signal an urgent need for more comprehensive education among UK teens both at school and home. The M∙A∙C AIDS Fund hopes to reopen an important dialogue around HIV/AIDS through a new feature length documentary "It's Not Over" that will tell authentic, personal stories of young people from around the world whose lives are affected by HIV/AIDS. Set to release this autumn, the documentary characterises HIV in a completely new way and aims to serve as a wakeup call to teens globally, translating entertainment into education and apathy into action.