Friday, 3 February 2012

Young people don't understand HIV and AIDS

Could you explain how HIV impacts the body?

I ask this question at the start and end of every HIV lesson I teach. Its a way of trying to monitor if my lesson is making a difference. Asking if they could explain a topic to someone else is a reasonable test to see if people understand the topic themselves. 

Today I asked this question at the start of a lesson and none of the 32 young people (13-14) could say yes. Now I am used to most young people not knowing that much about HIV but usually 1 or 2 say yes. It reminded me just how low the level of HIV awareness is in the general population. Now I know that HIV rates are low in the UK but they are on the rise. If we are not careful it is very possible that we could have a significant problem with HIV if we fail to educate people about the risks. The role of ARVs may help make people live significantly longer so that HIV can be seen as a chronic condition and not a death sentence, yet the cost is high and it is not a easy or desirable condition. 

So here are some of the common miss-conceptions about HIV I regularly encounter. 

  • HIV can be cured (yes this is the most common myth I encounter) 
  • HIV can be caught by sharing a house with someone who is HIV+
  • It is impossible to catch HIV from oral sex
  • But you can catch HIV from a normal toilet
  • Condoms protect you a 100% of the time
  • You could tell if someone had the HIV virus, they would look ill

These commons myths keep cropping up and whilst some are less serious (toilets!) some could lead people into significant problems. We need more education about HIV. If they practise safer sex in relation to HIV they will also be protected from a lot of other more common STIs, so its an effective way of promoting general safer sex practice. So lets push the issue in schools.

(I'm going to use this video on loop for my next presentation about HIV+)