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Television coverage of AIDS and transmission of the AIDS virus
  1. D J Nicolson
  1. Centre for Health Services Research, School of Health Sciences, University of Newcastle, 21 Claremont Place, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4AA, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 d.j.nicolson{at}ncl.ac.uk

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The introduction of the government framework “The national strategy for sexual health and HIV”1 is necessary for attempts to prevent sexual causes of premature death and ill health, at a time when transmission of HIV is at a record level and heterosexual intercourse is the most commonly reported mode of transmission. However, policy formation alone will not be effective in the fight against AIDS in the United Kingdom. Commentators have noted television coverage of AIDS has declined as the progression of the AIDS epidemic has fallen from media interest.2 While television coverage raises AIDS awareness and encourages safer sex, it is unclear if it has an impact on infection rates. I have studied the association between television coverage and HIV transmission.

Television programmes with an AIDS specific content broadcast in the United Kingdom between 1981 and 2000 were identified. Criteria for inclusion were UK-wide terrestrial television programmes promoting AIDS awareness and encouraging the practice of safer sex; documenting the life of a person with AIDS; or a dramatisation featuring an AIDS storyline. Televised public education campaigns were excluded from the search, having been reported elsewhere.3 Television listings data were collected from a Scottish national newspaper (Daily Record) providing UK-wide television listings. Hand searching was conducted on the 1st, 15th, and 28th days of the months of February, May, August, and November; from 1981–2000: a 3.3% sample of available coverage. The sample was augmented by additional sources. A search for programmes shown as part of a one-off media campaign (as reported in the literature); between 27 February and 6 March 1987 to promote AIDS awareness and encourage safer sex was conducted. Supplementary programmes were obtained ad hoc from reviewing The Guardian CD Rom (from 1989–2000) and The End of Innocence: Britain in the time of AIDS.4

Thirty seven UK terrestrial programmes covering HIV/AIDS were identified, the earliest in 1983, most recent in 2000, and a peak of programmes in the late 1980s. Between 1996 and 1999 no programmes covering HIV/AIDS were found. Twelve programmes about AIDS were shown during the media campaign of 1987. The decline in television coverage of AIDS contrasts with the steady increase in transmission of HIV (see fig 1 and table on STI website).

The findings of my study are tentative, but hint that television coverage of AIDS has declined as transmission of HIV continues. This complements Nicoll and colleagues’ argument that AIDS campaigns (often televised) are likely to have reduced HIV transmission in the 1980s.3 Television is a rich source of information about AIDS, offering a powerful while unevaluated medium for promoting AIDS awareness and safer sex to the general public. Given the current low level of media interest and the ceaseless increase of HIV transmission, it may be beneficial to formally evaluate a national media campaign on this important public health issue using quasi-experimental methods.

Figure 1

Television coverage of HIV/AIDS and incidence of HIV transmission in the UK, 1981–2001.

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      Identified television coverage of AIDS 1981-2000

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