For a country that was previously known as being one of the least progressive in terms of LGBT rights in the UK, Scotland sure has made some incredible strides toward equality over the past few decades. In fact, in 2015, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) named Scotland the best place in Europe for LGBTI people to live — and now a new major report out of Scotland is recommending that young people be taught about PrEP in schools.
The report, from Scotland’s largest HIV policy organization (HIV Scotland), is based upon the findings of an extensive study which examined both the current state of sex education in Scottish schools, and the awareness among pupils of sexual health issues. Within the report, HIV Scotland expressed for the law to be changed so that all schools would have to provide relationship, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education, and that such classes should also include “information on LGBT relationships.”
And in those classes, the report strongly suggests that students be taught about the HIV prevention method, PrEP. “There should be a 21st century understanding of HIV, with resources providing information on the latest HIV prevention and treatment strategies, for example references to the availability of PrEP,” states the report.
“There have been significant advances in HIV treatment, meaning that people diagnosed with HIV and on effective treatment cannot pass the virus onto others, and the introduction of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which can stop people from becoming infected. Lessons must equip young people with this information.”
The research, which combined findings from other studies, revealed that a disturbing lack of information was being provided to young people in Scotland regarding sex and STIs. Three in five teenagers in the study said they do not remember receiving any information about HIV in school.
And the statistics prove the dangers in not making HIV education and prevention a priority in the country: since 2001, the number of people living with HIV in Scotland has doubled, and currently about two 15 to 24-year-olds in the country are getting diagnosed every month. And with HIV testing not being strongly encouraged, it is believed that many more are unknowingly acquiring and transmitting the virus.
The report continued: “Legislation should be introduced to the Scottish Parliament for RSHP lessons to become a compulsory component of the curriculum, in order to guarantee access for every young person in Scotland.”
Despite the progress the country has made, HIV Scotland anticipates opposition and controversy over the recommendation, but Nathan Sparling, HIV Scotland’s head of policy and campaigning, says the benefits should far outweigh any fears of “rocking the boat.”
“The treatment and prevention of HIV has changed so much, and that's why we're calling for schools to teach the 21st century aspects of HIV, which are a wide variety of prevention measures, which include PrEP, and which will help us eliminate new transmissions,” Sparling told Buzzfeed shortly after the report was released. Making sex education compulsory may not please some people, but, said Sparling, “it is vital.”
“This is a public health issue, about making sure our young people, no matter what school they go to and where in the country they are, have a minimum knowledge in order to be able to protect themselves from HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections.”