"My research in the west Midlands with postgraduate student Betselot Mulugeta, talking to groups of immigrant men and women from the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities, has revealed serious misconceptions about the nature of the HIV/Aids epidemic in the UK. Lack of information tailored for different migrant groups, alongside lower awareness of HIV/Aids through media coverage as a whole, is a problem with real consequences.
Newly reported cases of HIV in the UK are higher than ever before. Between 1995 and 2006, the rate of HIV infection among black Africans in the west Midlands increased 100-fold, compared to a two-fold increase among white people, a three-fold increase among black Caribbeans and a six-fold increase among other mixed ethnic groups (according to the region's strategic health authority figures).
Taking the Ethiopian and Eritrean population as one example: they are predominantly young and single, tend to live alone and are often sexually active. Their culture and language restrict the information available to them. This group therefore represents a reservoir of HIV infection which is both a concern for the immigrant community itself and the host population. As social networks among the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in the west Midlands do not condone or tolerate the discussion of sexual issues, external information networks are crucial in raising awareness of the HIV situation in the west Midlands and reducing stigma and discrimination of those who are HIV-positive.
The respondents in our study said they believed the UK was "civilised" and therefore they could not contract HIV/Aids, that the problem had been left behind in Africa. Some commented that they believed all migrants were screened before being allowed entry, and that drugs were available in the UK that would "cure" Aids. Perhaps most tellingly, interviewees said that Aids wasn't talked about in the UK and no information or warnings were provided, so they had assumed there wasn't a problem. Culturally, condoms are a difficult issue. It is considered unacceptable for either partner in a sexual relationship to ask for a condom to be used, because it's thought to suggest the woman is promiscuous or a prostitute, or that there is a lack of trust between them."