30/11/2011 11:13 GMT

Government Should 'Take The Lead' In AIDS Awareness

A leading UK AIDS charity has called on the government to take the lead on HIV awareness in the same way it did with mental health.

In the build up to World AIDS Day on 1 December, the National AIDS Trust appealed to the government for more help as it launched two campaigns to highlight the plight of AIDS sufferers in the UK - ending the stigma of HIV and improving HIV and AIDS education in classrooms.

The chief executive of NAT, Deborah Jack, said: "HIV stigma is unfortunately a serious and ongoing issue for many HIV positive people and it is vital for the government to take the lead on tackling this, in the same way they did for mental health."

Figures show that HIV diagnoses among young people have risen by nearly 70% in the last decade among 15-24 year olds and are still on the increase and NAT has called on the government to make Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) compulsory within the National Curriculum.

The organisation says that because a new generation is growing up with few, if any, memories of the comprehensive health promotion messages of the 1980s, there has never been a more important time for reliable HIV information to be made available. Introducing the subject into SRE would ensure that young people are equipped with the knowledge and confidence to protect themselves. HIV is currently taught as part of the science curriculum with schools only required to teach the biology of the virus. As a result, broader information can be patchy and with little attention paid to social aspects such as relationships, stigma and discrimination.

Jack said: "It is... vital we educate the next generation so young people grow up aware of the facts and new infections can be prevented."

NAT added that greater education and awareness could then help dissipate the stigma that still surrounds people living with HIV. Figures from the organisation claim that one in three people with HIV have experienced discrimination while research conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Trust found that more than two-thirds (69%) of those questioned agreed there is still a great deal of stigma in the UK today around HIV and AIDS.

"We need the government to be proactive on this and recognise the importance of Sex and Relationships Education which takes into account the social dimension of HIV rather than just focussing on biology.

"HIV as a domestic issue has long been swept under the carpet so we are asking everyone to do their part getting involved in our campaigns, showing their support and also demonstrating to the government that more must be done to tackle HIV in the UK."