EastEnders praised for combatting stigma through landmark HIV storyline

The beloved soap teamed up with the Terrence Higgins Trust to craft a storyline that accurately depicts the reality of living with HIV in 2023.

A screengrab from EastEnders of the character Zach, who is HIV Positive, smiling.
Image: BBC

According to data provided by YouGov and the Terrence Higgins Trust (the UK’s leading sexual health charity), as little as 33% of British people are educated on the facts of HIV transmission, but EastEnders is looking to change that with its recent storyline. 

The new research developed by YouGov and the Terrence Higgins Trust was officially published on August 9 to intentionally coincide with the release of a brand new episode of EastEnders. Over the last few weeks, the long-running and beloved British soap has followed the ongoing story of Zack Hudson (James Farrar) and his HIV diagnosis. 

In the most recent episode of the series, Hudson can be seen talking to doctors as they tell him that the medication he has been taking has successfully suppressed the virus, meaning that he cannot pass it on to others. 

While many are aware of the fact that undetectable HIV is also untransmittable, many more are not, says the Higgins Trust’s research. According to its findings, only 36% of Brits are aware that Undetectable=Untransmittable. 

The research went on to declare that less than 20% of the UK population felt comfortable having sex with someone who was HIV Positive but undetectable, despite there being no risk whatsoever of the virus being transmitted. 

EastEnders’ “landmark” storyline is educating an audience of up to 30 million viewers on the realities of living with HIV in 2023. In addition to Zack’s U=U arch, the soap is also tackling other stigma surrounding HIV and childbirth. Now that Zack’s viral load is undetectable, the series has confirmed that Zack and his partner Whitney Dean (Shone McGarty) can now start trying to have a baby. 

Similar to the other statistics provided by the Terrence Higgins Trust and YouGov, only 47% of Brits were aware that HIV Positive parents can give birth to children that do not have the virus. 

The team at the Terrence Higgins Trust reportedly worked hand-in-hand with EastEnders to develop Zack’s storyline in order to achieve an accurate depiction of living with HIV in 2023. 


Following the premiere of Zack’s HIV storyline back in January 2023, the Terrence Higgins Trust saw a 75% uptick in visits to its website. The charity told Gay Times that the most popular pages amongst new visitors were on how HIV is transmitted, the stages of HIV infection, symptoms of HIV and post-exposure prophylaxis. 

“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,” Dr Kate Nambiar, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said.

“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.”

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