HIV Education or lack thereof?

So on the same day the wonderful Sex Education Forum email me this:

The Sex Education Forum have today launched an on-line survey to gather the views of young people about HIV and AIDS education to inform the Select Committee on HIV and AIDS in the UK.

Learning about HIV and AIDS is compulsory for maintained secondary schools, but in 2008 we found that one in four young people had not learnt about HIV and AIDS in school.

We would value your support in disseminating this as widely as possible to young people you work with; through your web-site, facebook, by e-mail in your tweets etc.

Details below and further information on our

Did you learn about HIV and AIDS at school?
The Sex Education Forum is running a survey about HIV and AIDS education in school so that we can make the views of young people known to Parliament.

The House of Lords have set up a Select Committee on HIV and AIDS in the United Kingdom. One of the things the committee is investigating is if education about HIV and AIDS is good enough and to get suggestions on how to improve it.

You can take the survey if you are aged 11-25. The only personal details required are your age, school year and school type.  The survey asks 10 questions about your experience of learning about sex and relationships at secondary school and whether this included HIV and AIDS. The link for the survey is:

I also catch wind of this thread on UKYP forums. “Should we sterilise people with HIV”

Now I appreciate people will post contentious stuff in the names of debate and there have been only a few responses at the time of writing this but I have to say I am somewhat shocked at some of the general ignorance around HIV.

Firstly advocating sterilisation/enforced segregation of people with a life limiting but treatable (but not curable) condition is completely inhumane and to be honest worries me that a young person (with a strong interest in politics) would espouse those views (but to be totally fair we know from recent Justin Bieber Abortion comments furore that young people say stuff they believe at the time but beliefs can change).

But lets break this idea down some more just to get to grips a little further with quite what a ridiculous idea this is….

a) People who contract HIV can live for ~10years before the infection develops into full blown AIDS (this depends on immune state and other factors) and that is without treatment- with treatment you are likely to live much much longer- and may even die of old age rather than AIDS.  So proposing to “contain” these people, who can still live fulfilling lives working and provide for their families etc is complete nonsense.

b) There are approximately 33.3million people living with HIV worldwide out of a world population of almost 7billion.  Logistical exercise of containing let alone sterilising all these people!? Hmm!? Accomodation/food/water/healthcare?

c) HIV IS NOT THAT INFECTIOUS!  The common cold is way way way more infectious.  HIV although incurable – is actually a fairly hard virus to catch as it dies very quickly outside of the body (but obviously you should do everything in your power to protect yourself from it by always using condoms, getting regularly tested for STI’s,  knowing the sexual history/STI status of your partner and be aware that some sexual practices (eg. Anal sex) carry more risk than others and having other STI’s such as herpes or warts can increase your susceptibility to HIV).  The virus lives in bodily fluids- but is only found in amounts large enough to be transmitted in blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breastmilk.  Therefore it is only really transmitted sexually, intravenously (via blood eg. infected needles from drug use) and from Mother to child (via childbirth/breastfeeding).

So the very idea of containing all these “infectious” people is ridiculous since HIV is actually quite easy to protect yourself from unlike the common cold! After all you are not going to catch it by being in the same room or touching someone with HIV (but you can with common cold- “containing” isolating people with colds for duration of their illness maybe be a more sensible idea!).
(The issues around people not protecting themselves from HIV particularly in developing countries stem from lack of knowledge/education, access to condoms, getting partner to wear condoms, not getting tested therefore not knowing HIV status, fear and stigma and discrimination of people with HIV/AIDS amongst others- I’m not saying these are easy things to overcome- but I think they would be a darn sight easier than building a giant concentration camp for 33.3million people!)

d) Sterilising people with HIV.  OH. MY. There seems to be a basic misunderstanding about how HIV is spread- HIV+ Mothers won’t definitely have HIV+ children- in fact if certain protocols are followed (antiretrovirals, C-section and not breastfeeding) the risk of a baby getting HIV from the mother is less than 2%.  You can read more about this here. Also an HIV+ man can still become a father to HIV negative children and also not risk infecting his female partner- there will need to be medical intervention (sperm washing, Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI) etc- but just because you have HIV doesn’t mean your kids will as there are ways to avoid it- so sterilisation as a way of avoiding passing HIV to next generation is over the top considering the alternatives! (Unfortunately in developing countries access to preventative treatments of transmission to next generation is much harder)

e) The poster seems to think HIV is a real risk of eradicating humanity.  To be quite honest I am much more scared of bird flu or anything involving a fast spreading easily transmitter killer virus that lives for a few weeks in host infecting everyone (maximising transmission before you die)- I mean haven’t you watched Outbreak, Survivors, 28 days/weeks later!   It is those types of virus that are at risk of eradicating humanity not HIV.  The main issue with HIV is that it is able to live undetected for many years (as you only know you have it by getting a test) so the person living with HIV can pass it on unknowingly over a long period of time.  But with regular testing and everyone taking precautions  to protect themselves from the virus then its spread will dramatically reduce.

So basically containment/sterilisation would actually be pretty useless for this virus, you might as well kill everyone with HIV instead, and I really hope no educated YP (and future politician) will ever think genocide is sensible idea…  Just to reinforce HIV is a manageable condition- with the right treatment you can live a long and happy life- the issue really should be why isn’t everyone worldwide getting access to the knowledge, skills and tools (condoms/femidoms) to protect themselves from HIV and why aren’t all HIV+ people worldwide getting the treatment they need to lengthen their lives?

Finally the thread is moving on with people responding but even the No’s are showing some basic misunderstanding of HIV and this worries me as clearly they are educated young people who are not getting what they deserve in terms of HIV education within their setting- so I hope they will fill out the survey for the sex education forum. I also worry about the amount of stigma and prejudice around HIV and feel that this is a key area schools need to tackle.

If you are a teacher who needs help with HIV education in school please email me at SexEdUKation at gmail dot com  I am now in my 3rd year running an HIV Education project for schools in two London Boroughs so I have plenty of stuff that can help.


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