Boris Johnson criticised for confusing HIV and AIDS again: ‘Ignorance leads to fear and stigma’
Boris Johnson is facing criticism after he mixed up HIV and AIDS while speaking about vaccines and advances in medical research.
The prime minister made his remarks during an address to 200 business leaders at a Global Investment Summit held at the Science Museum on Tuesday morning (19 October).
In his speech, Boris Johnson reflected on “the sheer improbability of what humanity has achieved in the last 18 months”, according to The Telegraph.
“We still don’t have a vaccine for AIDS, we don’t have a cure for the common cold. But within a year the appearance of COVID-19, this lethal new virus with this uncanny ability of transmission, we have forged an entirely new set of armour for our species and it’s getting stronger.”
Matthew Hodson, executive director of Aidsmap, told PinkNews that it was “disappointing” to see the prime minister mix up HIV and AIDS. The terms HIV and AIDS are often used interchangeably, but they do not have the same meaning.
HIV, which stands for “human immunodeficiency virus”, is a virus that attacks white blood cells within the immune system. If left untreated, HIV will ultimately develop into AIDS, which stands for “acquired immune deficiency syndrome”.
According to Aidsmap, AIDS is “an umbrella term for the illnesses that occur due to having untreated HIV infection for several years, by which point the immune system is severely damaged and unable to fight off infections”.
Boris Johnson urged to step up government response to HIV transmission
“It is disappointing that the prime minister cannot distinguish between HIV and AIDS,” Hodson said. “Ignorance leads to fear and stigma, which creates barriers to HIV testing and treatment and help to perpetuate this disease.
“It’s been almost three years since this government committed to end new HIV transmissions by 2030. PrEP works. Effective HIV treatment prevents transmission. Even without a vaccine to protect against HIV, we have the tools we need to end this epidemic – and we have an action plan to reach that goal.”
Hodson added: “I would urge the prime minister to make the commitment needed now to resource that plan. Ending HIV would be a glorious legacy.”
Danny Beales, head of policy and campaigns at the National AIDS Trust, said Johnson’s comments show “the poor understanding that unfortunately still exists about HIV in this country”.
“Our recent polling of 3,000 people indicated that large proportions of the public are still confused about how HIV is transmitted, and don’t understand the realties in 2021 of living with HIV,” Beales said.
“HIV and AIDS are different conditions. The overwhelming majority of people living with HIV in the UK do not develop AIDS – a condition when serious illnesses are caused by a weakened immune system.
“HIV is now a treatable life-long condition. The vast majority of people in the UK living with HIV are on successful treatment, which means they cannot pass on the virus. It is vital more people know these basic facts about HIV today.”
Beales added: “We hope the prime minister and his government will take the opportunity of the HIV Action Plan currently under development, to address these issues of poor understanding about HIV and HIV stigma. New investment in public awareness campaigns and improving understanding of HIV and AIDS will be essential in achieving the goal of ending new HIV transmissions by 2030.”
This is not the first time Boris Johnson has faced criticism for mixing up HIV and AIDS. In April, the prime minister faced fierce condemnation when he confused HIV with “AIDS or whatever” during a live broadcast of the UK government’s COVID-19 briefing.
Speaking to journalists, Johnson said he “never thought” so many COVID-19 vaccines would have come on stream so quickly given there were still no vaccines for “SARs or AIDS or whatever”.
Many criticised the prime minister for not understanding the difference between HIV and AIDS. Some activists responded by sharing a graph from the National AIDS Trust on social media which states that HIV and AIDS should not be confused.
The charity has said in the past that conflating HIV and AIDS “can add to unhelpful confusion between the two”.
PinkNews has contacted Downing Street for comment.