Since 2017, knowledge about the non-transmissibility of HIV during treatment has nearly doubled, from 10 to 18 percent. That was the conclusion of a representative survey commissioned by Deutsche Aidshilfe in April 2020, with over 1,000 people surveyed.

By Jörn Valldorf, translation: Ben Knight

As well as knowledge about the non-transmissibility of HIV during therapy, the survey also collected attitudes to the whole issue of HIV. The report builds on a survey carried out by Germany’s Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) for World AIDS Day in 2017.

Knowledge about the non-transmissibility of HIV doubled

In 2017, only around 10 percent of people in Germany knew that HIV is not transmissible during therapy. In response, Deutsche Aidshilfe launched the interactive campaign #wissenverdoppeln (“double the knowledge”). The goal: to double the knowledge of this vital fact until everybody knows. That’s because the greater the knowledge about the non-transmissibility of HIV during treatment, the more fears are broken down, along with marginalization and discrimination against people with HIV, which will help spread more positive interaction among people.

The first milestone has been reached: In the questionnaire, 18 percent of people agreed with the statement, “Current treatment methods make it possible for HIV to no longer be transmitted during sex without a condom.”

That knowledge is most widespread — at an above-average 21 percent — among people aged between 16 and 29 and those between 45 and 59 years. Among the oldest respondents (aged 60 years and over), the figure is still below average, despite an increase. Altogether, awareness has increased significantly among all age groups since 2017.

34 percent of respondents know that HIV medication prevents transmission from mother to child

There is even greater awareness around pregnancy and birth: Some 34 percent of respondents know that HIV medication prevents transmission from mother to child. Interestingly, agreeing with this statement is almost equal among men and women (35 percent of men and 34 percent of women).

#wissenverdoppeln and other information channels

How do people learn this? The survey respondents were asked about that too: “Have you recently been made aware of the issue of non-transmissibility of HIV and AIDS during treatment, and if so, how?”

Nearly four out of ten respondents said yes to this question. The sources of this information were, apart from the press, television, and the internet, conversations with family, friends and acquaintances.

One in 20 explicitly named the #wissenverdoppeln campaign as their source of information.

Meanwhile, doctors, care-workers, and health authorities or clubs appear to have played a smaller role in spreading the information. Only one in a hundred respondents said they had learned about the non-transmissibility of HIV during treatment from this group.

Fewer contact fears

Another central element of the survey were questions about interacting with people who are HIV-positive. One question, for example, was how one should behave in various everyday situations that could involve contact with people with HIV.

The closer the contact with people with HIV, the greater the fear

There’s good news here too: There has been a noticeable decrease in contact fears since 2017. In nine out of eleven everyday situations, prejudices about people with HIV have dropped. But, we can still say in general: The closer the contact with people with HIV, the greater the fear of infection, and the greater the discrimination.

The survey found that 85 percent of respondents would shake hands with HIV-positive people, and 71 percent would have no problem with a hug. But, only 20 percent said they would definitely kiss someone with HIV, and 16 percent said they would be worried if they were coughed at — even though this involves no HIV risk whatsoever. Only one in five respondents could imagine having sex with a condom with someone with HIV.

Statements on HIV and life with HIV

Another section of the questionnaire dealt with statements on HIV and living with it.

The good news: Almost four out of five respondents (78 percent) know that HIV cannot be transmitted in everyday life. Slightly more (84 percent) said that thanks to HIV medication, a long and more or less complication-free life is possible.

HIV cannot be transmitted in everyday life

But, there has hardly been any change around prejudices regarding people with HIV compared to the 2017 survey. One in five believe that HIV-positive people are themselves to blame for their illness. A third of people would rather not have any contact with the issue of HIV and AIDS at all. About a third of people don’t want to have contact with the issue of HIV and AIDS at all. Also, more than half of respondents agreed with the statement that people talk negatively about those who are HIV-positive.

The age, education levels, and gender of respondents only made a minor difference to this.

People with HIV in personal circles

As well as questions about the level of knowledge about the transmissibility of HIV and attitudes towards it, the survey also asked interviewees whether they had personal acquaintances with HIV. The survey showed that only a minority of people — 17 percent — knew people with HIV. Altogether, the proportion of people who have HIV-positive acquaintances has increased slightly since 2017, which could indicate that HIV-positive people are now more open about their condition. In the age groups 30 to 44 and 45 to 49 years, some 19 percent of people said they knew people with HIV.

Among 16-29-year-olds, the figure was just 14 percent, while among people over 60 it was 15 percent. Among respondents with lower educational qualifications, 20 percent knew people with HIV, while those with mid-level or higher educational qualifications, the figure was 15 percent.

Intensive education leads to success

The results of the study clearly show that HIV educational work by Deutsche Aidshilfe and other organizations has been a success. Now we must continue to “double the knowledge” until everyone is aware of the scientifically proven fact that HIV is not transmissible during treatment.

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