…blogs Sarah West:
At the end of 2011 the International HIV/AIDS Alliance commissioned a public perceptions survey[i] to understand the British public’s awareness of the HIV/AIDS situation in the developing world. It revealed some interesting results.
Maintain government HIV/AIDS spending and support women
Nearly three quarters (73%) of the British public think it is important that the UK government maintain its spending on HIV programmes overseas, this is despite the tough economic times. Furthermore, three quarters of people (76%) believe that HIV positive women should have the right to have children born free of HIV and over half (60%) are keen for the UK government to give aid to help women in developing countries to give birth to children without HIV.
As the numbers of women living with HIV has increased in every region of the world these findings reinforce the need to act decisively on the available scientific know-how and the evidence of strong community involvement in order to deliver effective HIV programmes for women.
Limited awareness of progress
One area for concern is the lack of awareness among the British public about the positive developments there have been in the HIV response. Most people think that the problem of HIV/AIDS in developing countries has either stayed the same (39%) or got worse (33%) over the last few years and only one in five (18%) think it has got better over the last few years.
Despite the huge increase in the numbers of people who can now access treatment only one quarter (28%) of the public think most people in developing countries can do so.
In fact, thanks in part to UK leadership and public interest, since the 2005 Gleaneagles commitment to ‘Make Poverty History’ the number of poor people receiving life saving treatment has increased from less than half a million to over 6 million.
People are however slightly more optimistic about the future and a larger proportion (26%) think it will get better over the next few years. It is young people and those from ethnic minorities who are most likely to be positive about the past and the future.
In spite of recent publicity and some high profile campaigns on the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV the public are unclear whether there are effective ways to prevent passing HIV to babies. 41% think there are effective ways of preventing transmission of HIV from mother to child, compared to 47% who do not.
Whether they believe treatment is available or not, the majority (63%) think HIV positive women can’t access treatment to prevent mothers passing HIV to their children.
Communicating success is key
The survey highlighted that 55% of the public wanted to hear more about HIV/AIDS, primarily those who were younger but it is important to be aware that this still leaves 45% of the British public who do not necessarily want to know more about it, even though they may care about the issue.
Collectively, we are making a significant difference in preventing new infections, providing treatment and reducing the numbers of people dying from AIDS related illnesses. It would be useful to engage the British public so they are aware that the HIV/AIDS interventions overseas are making a difference.
UK government should capitalise on this public support
The UK’s contribution to the global HIV/AIDS response is critical and there is clearly widespread support from the British public to continue this work.
Despite this evident public support the UK government is decreasing its bilateral funding for HIV by up to 30% over the coming years. This is exacerbated by the current $2billion funding shortfall in donor contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria which is already having an impact on countries ability to maintain the steady progress that is being made in tackling HIV and could cost millions of lives.
It is important that the UK government capitalises on this public support and continues to demonstrate political leadership in the global HIV/AIDS response by ensuring that HIV continues to be a priority for theUK, doubling theUKcontribution to the Global Fund and working hard to ensure that other donor governments increase their contributions to the Fund.
Now is not the time to take the foot off the accelerator. The clock is ticking. Millions of lives are at stake and the British public is interested.
[i] Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1004 adults in Great Britain aged 15 and over. Face-to-face interviews were conducted in-home between 4th and 10th November 2011. Data are weighted to the known population profile ofGreat Britain (aged 15 and over).