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89% of UK young people don't feel at risk from HIV, says survey

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Teenagers in the UK don’t believe themselves to be a risk of contracting HIV, according to a national survey.

The survey, carried out by the MAC AIDS Fund, asked 1,033 12 to 17 year olds about their behaviour, perceptions and awareness of HIV/AIDS.

It found that 89% don’t believe themselves at risk of HIV or AIDS in their lifetime.

Worryingly, when asked which type of behaviour would put their health at risk, only 27% said having unprotected sex – and  one third (33%) don’t realise that HIV is a sexually transmitted disease.

93% of those questioned, though, admit that they’d be nervous to find out they had HIV or AIDS.

The statistics are especially worrying since the 10-24 year old age group is the only one in which AIDS deaths are still rising globally.

In the UK, young people aged 15-to 24 face the highest risk of new HIV infection, according to the Health Protection Agency, and in the last decade new AIDS diagnosis have risen by nearly 70% amongst the age group.

UK teens’ lack of awareness might be because they rarely have the chance to discuss the disease. According to the survey, 42% of UK teens have never talked about HIV/AIDS with anyone - but 59% would be open to a conversation if given the opportunity.

About half (52%) of 12-17 year olds learned about HIV in school, while 34% learned about it on the internet, and 59% perceive online information on HIV/AIDS as being more accurate than their parents or teachers.

The MAC AIDS Fund suggests that more education could help minimise stigmas that surround the disease. 49% of those questioned think that if they were diagnosed with HIV others might be afraid of them, while 35% believe that they’d be bullied in school.

These concerns might come from their own impression of people living with HIV - only 51% say they would treat a friend or classmate with HIV normally.

Now better education amongst young people is being called for.

The survey was carried out as a precursor to the MAC AIDS Fund’s upcoming HIV/AIDS documentary, “It’s Not Over,” which has been produced by award-winning filmmaker Andrew Jenks and is designed to reach young people worldwide.

The film, which will be released this autumn, will tell the stories of young people from around the world whose lives are affected by HIV/AIDS. It aims to serve as a wakeup call to teens globally, translating “entertainment into education and apathy into action.” 

Nancy Mahon, Global Executive Director of the MACAIDS Fund, says: “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.

“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.”

The MAC AIDS Fund, part of MAC Cosmetics, was established in 1994 to support men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS globally. For more information, visitwww.macaidsfund.org

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