New research about HIV awareness released to coincide with EastEnders storyline

New Research About Hiv Awareness Released To Coincide With Eastenders Storyline
EastEnders character Zack Hudson, played by James Farrar, is told by doctors the medication he is taking to suppress the virus means he cannot pass on HIV.
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By Mike Bedigan, PA Los Angeles Correspondent

New research showing that just over one third of people in the UK know the facts about HIV transmission has been released, coinciding with a major EastEnders storyline.

The data, shared by the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), revealed that just 36% of people know that someone living with HIV and on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on to partners


It comes as EastEnders character Zack Hudson, played by James Farrar, is told by doctors the medication he is taking to suppress the virus means he cannot pass on HIV.

EastEnders’ Zack Hudson, played by James Farrar. Photo: Kieron McCarron/Jack Barnes/PA. 

THT is working with the long-running soap on its latest HIV storyline to make sure the drama aligns with current facts about the virus.


The trust previously advised the show back in 1991 when character Mark Fowler was first diagnosed.

According to THT, there was a 75 per cent increase in traffic to the charity’s website with viewers searching for up-to-date information following Zack’s diagnosis in January.

The trust said that Zack’s ongoing storyline was important in helping to update the public’s knowledge of HIV and bust myths that have persisted since the 1980s, highlighting that much medical progress has been made in treating HIV since EastEnders’ previous HIV storyline.

The new data comes following a YouGov polling of 2,088 UK adults for THT – the country’s leading HIV and sexual health charity.


The research also found just half (47%) of people in the UK correctly know that someone living with HIV can have children who are HIV-negative.

This myth is also being busted as Zack and onscreen girlfriend Whitney, played by Shona McGarty, are able to try for a baby now that levels of HIV are undetectable in his blood.

The trust found ongoing levels of HIV-related stigma, with just 42 per cent of Brits saying they would be comfortable dating someone living with HIV, and only a third (35 per cent) comfortable with kissing someone who is HIV positive.



Additionally, even though HIV treatment suppresses the virus to undetectable levels meaning it cannot be passed on, fewer than one in five people (18 per cent) would be comfortable having sex with someone living with HIV and on effective treatment.

This is despite there being zero risk of HIV being passed on, THT said.


One in five people (21%) said they had learned about HIV through TV and film.

The charity hopes that Zack being told his HIV is “undetectable” will have a big impact in raising awareness of HIV transmission and help to tackle the stigma continuing to surround HIV.

It runs its own Can’t Pass It On campaign to raise awareness of how much medical progress has been made in preventing transmission of HIV.

Dr Kate Nambiar, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Zack being told he is undetectable and that he can’t pass on HIV is a landmark moment that shows just how much HIV has changed since Mark Fowler’s diagnosis in the 1980s.

“The brilliant thing about soaps is that we don’t just see the immediate aftermath of Zack’s diagnosis, but also the characters learning about the realities of HIV in 2023 and Zack living a normal life which HIV is just a small part of.

“Our new research shows just why this storyline is so important with low levels of knowledge resulting in high levels of stigma and discrimination.

“We hope that EastEnders’ millions of viewers watch the storyline, learn the facts and see that there is absolutely no reason not to kiss, date or have sex with people living with HIV.”

Zack Hudson was diagnosed with HIV on the show in January. Photo: Kieron McCarron/Jack Barnes/PA. 

Allan Batcock, a straight man living with HIV, said it was “incredible” to see awareness being raised on EastEnders, having  learned about HIV from “the tombstone adverts in the 1980s”.

“When I was diagnosed with HIV at 34 it hit me like a sledgehammer,” he said.

“I would be limited – but then I learned about the huge medical progress we’ve made around HIV and that I could live a long, fulfilling life thanks to the treatment that I take.

“Since being diagnosed with HIV, I’m now married to my childhood sweetheart who is HIV negative, and we live with our three kids as a happy family.”

Victoria Roscow, a mother who is living with HIV, added: “People living with HIV can lead healthy and normal lives, however sadly many of us continue to experience stigma and discrimination because of our HIV status.

“Through Zack’s storyline, EastEnders is educating millions of people and showing that HIV doesn’t have to get in the way of living a happy life.

“Seeing someone struggling after being diagnosed with HIV and coming out the other side healthy with a HIV negative partner and now the option to have a HIV negative child will do so much in challenging negative perceptions around the virus and help others living with HIV learn to love themselves just as they are.”

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