AIDS communication breakdown means new threat to the UK

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With World AIDS Day on December 1, a leading expert is urging the Government to repeat the 1980s campaigns in order to deal with a new crisis of awareness and understanding of the AIDS threat in the UK.

New research by Professor Hazel Barrett of Coventry University alongside a research student Betselot Mulugeta among African ethnic minority communities in Birmingham has highlighted a breakdown in understanding between migrant groups and the UK health authorities which means Africa’s problem with AIDS is coming into the UK.

The research found common perceptions that:

  • all migrants are screened for HIV/AIDS before being allowed to enter the UK, so unsafe sex is not a problem;
  • the UK has drugs which cures AIDS;
  • there is no problem with AIDS in the UK because, unlike their own countries, there is no mention of it in the media or in public health announcements.

Professor Barrett, who has spent more than ten years of her career studying public awareness campaigns and the impact of AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, argues that the UK faces a real threat from greater mobility and lower levels of understanding.

“The levels of newly-reported cases of HIV in the UK are higher than ever before. Contrary to popular perception, HIV/AIDS is more likely to affect heterosexuals, and the majority of newly diagnosed infections are outside of London. The North East, East, and South Central Strategic Health Authority regions of the UK have reported 500% increases in the past 10 years,” she said.

“There is a desperate need to understand the social context of the disease both in terms of the migrants’ region of origin as well as in their new UK communities. The British government is yet to address the steep rise in rates of the disease among heterosexuals and a new AIDS awareness campaign targeted at those most at risk of spreading it is imperative. It’s a campaign they are reluctant to undertake because of the sensitivities around immigration and race.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 60% of global cases of HIV/AIDS but it is dangerous to think of the disease as just an African problem now that we can travel easily between continents. Surely it is time we had another UK national campaign to bring this deadly disease to everybody’s attention and to correct the misconceptions that both the host and migrant communities have of the UK HIV/AIDS epidemic.”


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