First TV ad on HIV since ‘tombstones’ 40 years ago set to tackle attitudes stuck in the 1980s

The first major new TV advert on HIV to air in Scotland since the UK Government’s ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ campaign featuring falling tombstones 40 years ago launches on STV tonight [16 October]. The advert will provide a decades overdue update on the huge medical progress in the fight against HIV.

In 1987 the advert’s message was ‘it’s a deadly disease and there’s no known cure’, while this new campaign explains how an HIV diagnosis has transformed since then by highlighting ‘you can live a healthy, happy life just like anyone else’.

The advert’s first outing airs at 7:58pm tonight [16 October] – just before Coronation Street, one of STV’s most-watched shows, alongside a wider campaign on billboards, newspapers and online.

The film is informed by Scottish Government funded research from YouGov into attitudes and beliefs about HIV in Scotland and produced by Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity.

The new research released today found worryingly low levels of knowledge about HIV. Just one third (35%) of people in Scotland would be happy to kiss someone living with HIV, despite it being known since the 1980s that HIV can’t be passed on through saliva.

The data also shows almost half (46%) of people in Scotland would be ashamed to tell other people they were HIV positive – demonstrating just how stigmatised a condition HIV remains today.

A lack of knowledge about how much progress has been made in the fight against HIV in the last 40 years is also clear in the data, with just a third of Scots aware that people living with HIV and on effective treatment can’t pass it on to partners.

The film features four powerful depictions of HIV stigma based on real experiences of people living with HIV in Scotland, including a father pulling his hand away after his daughter says she’s HIV positive and a nurse putting on a second pair of gloves during a hospital appointment.

The film concludes with the message that stigma is more harmful than HIV to encourage all of those watching to think about their role in perpetuating stigma and impacting the lives of people living with HIV.

Last year, the number of heterosexuals newly diagnosed with HIV was higher than in gay and bisexual men in Scotland for the first time in 15 years, according to the latest data from Public Health Scotland. Which is why it is important for everyone to know the realities of HIV and remove barriers to getting tested.

Alongside providing up-to-date information about HIV, the 60-second TV advert aims to tackle the stigma still surrounding the virus, which usually results from the kind of ignorance about how much HIV has changed since the 1980s and 90s shown in the YouGov polling.

The reason why stigma is now more harmful than HIV is because of the huge medical progress in treating HIV. Treatment works by suppressing levels of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels, which means the immune system is protected from damage and HIV cannot be passed on to partners. But a lack of knowledge about this progress fuels stigma, negatively impacts people living with HIV and makes others too scared to get tested.

The campaign was developed in partnership with NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Public Health Scotland, University of Strathclyde, Waverley Care, Our Positive Voice and Scottish Drugs Forum. It was then produced by award-winning Scottish agency Stand, which was behind Police Scotland’s high profile ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign to reframe the conversation on sexual violence and male sexual entitlement. It’s hoped this new campaign will result in important discussions about the realities of HIV today.

To help bring the campaign to TV screens, Terrence Higgins Trust utilised STV’s Championing Charities initiative, which aims to make TV advertising more accessible for charities of all shapes and sizes. The initiative is part of the STV Growth Fund, which sees the broadcaster match fund investment from charities, while also offering free creative advice and idea generation support.

For more information about HIV and the campaign visit

Blockquote open The Government’s AIDS awareness advert in the 1980s undoubtedly saved lives, but it also cast a long shadow by terrifying a generation about HIV. That’s why it is high time we update everyone’s knowledge about the incredible progress that’s been made in the fight against HIV over the last 40 years by bringing it back into millions of living rooms.

“Our new film is based on the direct experiences of people living with HIV in Scotland who shared how much of a challenge the stigma still surrounding HIV is in their day-to-day lives. In hospital, on dating apps and even in their own homes. Which is why, alongside all the good news about HIV today, we knew we had to show how devastating HIV-related stigma can be for those directly impacted. I hope millions will see our advert in the weeks ahead and be motivated to learn the facts and ditch the fiction about HIV. Blockquote close

Richard Angell Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust

Blockquote open When the team at Terrence Higgins Trust came to us with a proposal for Scotland’s first HIV awareness TV campaign in four decades, the STV Growth Fund was available to help them bring it to life. By utilising STV’s unrivalled reach across Scotland, the charity will bring the real experiences of HIV stigmatisation right to the forefront of the nation’s minds with this powerful campaign. Blockquote close

Danielle Kelly STV’s Director of Strategy and Sales Scotland

Jenni Minto, Public Health Minister for Scottish Government, said: “Forty years ago, an HIV diagnosis was regarded as a death sentence – today people with the virus are able to live long, happy and healthy lives thanks to effective treatment. I have often heard that the alarming and intentionally fear-driven campaigns of the 1980s have left a damaging legacy of stereotypes and misconceptions. And people living with HIV in Scotland still continue to live with that stigma which impacts on their lives."

Emma MacAnally, is a 34-year-old woman living with HIV from Glasgow. Emma said: “When I was diagnosed with HIV in 2016 I was in total disbelief as I thought this was something that would never affect me. But I was reassured by the doctor that medication would allow me to live a normal, healthy life, and this would also mean I would not be able to pass the virus onto others. HIV hasn’t limited my hopes and aspirations in any way, but the stigma has been the single biggest barrier of my diagnosis.

“Unfortunately, this stigma deeply affected me, my family and friends didn’t know how to respond and it was pretty horrific for me. Eventually, I became determined not to let that shame define me – having children was the biggest turning point for me as I became so confident in my body and by being on effective treatment, knew I could give birth to my son and daughter and they would be HIV negative. It’s incredible to see a long overdue TV advert on the reality of HIV in 2023 and how stigma is now more harmful than the virus itself. I hope it helps people living with HIV who are struggling to come to terms with their diagnosis feel a little bit less alone and also educates and raises awareness.”


Notes to editors

For more information contact Fraser Wilson, Head of Media & PR at Terrence Higgins Trust, on or 07931783084.

About Terrence Higgins Trust

Terrence Higgins Trust is the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, offering support, information and advice services for those living with HIV and affected by HIV or poor sexual health.