This week Lord Fowler bemoaned the lack of awareness around HIV as one of the reasons that new cases have trebled in the past decade.
Most of us (of a certain age) can vividly remember the heart-stopping shock of the original HIV ads, imploring us not to “die of ignorance”. Since then, though, the issue has faded from the foreground.
The Terrence Higgins Trust fears that as many as a quarter of the 100,000 people in the UK with HIV may not know they have it, and so could be passing it on inadvertently.
These concerns emphasise the need for strong, clear and ongoing awareness on public health issues.
Failing to communicate strongly and clearly is a real concern that goes beyond the spread of HIV, to the heart of all public health issues.
We’ve recently seen in the absence of an effective “stop” campaign that smoking rates are rising again.
It may be a salutary lesson that having a convincing argument is one thing, but the key to a winning one is to keep making it, time and again, and from the top.
Government plans to devolve responsibility for communicating on healthy lifestyle choices to a local level perhaps only go half way.
Of course the campaigns should focus within communities, but very often that’s not a substitute for strong national campaigning which sets the overall framework.
For sure those campaigns cost money, very often tax payers’ money, but is arguing against them for that reason a false economy?
The House of Lords select committee report which prompted this debate points to a 50% rise in the cost of managing HIV over the past five years, from £500m in 2006-07 to £760m in 2009-10.
The BBC asked Lord Fowler if the criticism for the shocking tone of the original HIV-awareness campaign was one reason it hadn’t been repeated. He said you will always upset someone for being too strong or weak.
You have to take that sort of thing on the chin. The point is to do something.