Today 1 December is World AIDS Day: Knowledge of HIV/AIDS

1 December, 2021

Dear HIFA colleagues,

Today 1 December is World AIDS Day.

Knowledge about how to prevent, diagnose and manage HIV and AIDS is critical. Research repeatedly shows that there are profound gaps in knowledge, among the general public, health workers and policymakers.

'The belief that a healthy-looking person cannot be infected with HIV is a common misconception that can result in unprotected sexual intercourse with infected partners. Correct knowledge about false beliefs of possible modes of HIV transmission is as important as correct knowledge of true modes of transmission. For example, the belief that HIV is transmitted through mosquito bites can weaken motivation to adopt safer sexual behaviour, while the belief that HIV can be transmitted through sharing food reinforces the stigma faced by people living with AIDS. This indicator is particularly useful in countries where knowledge about HIV and AIDS is poor because it allows for easy measurement of incremental improvements over time. However, it is also important in other countries because it can be used to ensure that pre-existing high levels of knowledge are maintained. (UNAIDS, 2009)'

The WHO Global Health Observatory (GHO) includes 'Population aged 15-24 years with comprehensive correct knowledge of HIV/AIDS (%)' as an indicator:

The Africa region has the greatest need for reliable healthcare information relating to HIV/AIDS, and the latest figures from GHO (2015) suggest only 36% of men and 29% of women can correctly identify ways of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV and reject major misconceptions about HIV transmission.

There continues to be widespread stigma against people with HIV worldwide. 'A survey [in the US] found that more than a quarter (28 percent) of HIV-negative millennials have avoided hugging, talking to or being friends with someone with the virus. Thirty percent said they’d prefer not to interact socially at all with people who have HIV.' (NBC News)

Social media giants such as Facebook need to transform their policies and take radical steps to improve access to reliable healthcare information, to protect people from misinformation, and to reduce stigma and discrimination. They need to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

I look forward to hear from you about HIV knowledge and attitudes in your country. Are things getting better or worse? What needs to be done?

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,