Biteback publishing, £14.99
Aids: Don’t die of prejudice by Norman Fowler, book review: All a splutter in the shires
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Sunday 15 June 2014
It is Norman Fowler’s distinction that he was the longest serving Health Secretary since the Second World War, having held the post for six years from 1981 to 1987. This was when Aids emerged as a global threat and developed into the worst pandemic of modern times.
His survival was remarkable given the turbulent times in the NHS as the money ran out – much like today. His successor, John Moores, lasted a year before being sacked by Mrs Thatcher, who six months later announced the biggest reform in the NHS’s history, ushering in the market and competition that remains controversial today.
The question many people asked at the time was: did Aids save Fowler or did Fowler save us from Aids? On the evidence of this book, written with passion, we must say Fowler helped save us from Aids.
Although the 1980s tombstone ads with the legend “Don’t die of ignorance” were mocked at the time, it is to Fowler’s credit that they made it to the air waves. Thatcher was queasy and wanted to axe the section on risky sex. Others in the Cabinet pressed for a moral line – promiscuity, infidelity and “sexual deviation” (i.e. homosexuality) were routes to catastrophe, they said. Fortunately, many members of the Cabinet were ex-military, and knew there was only one way to protect soldiers from VD – proper precautions not moral advice.
Without doubt, however, Aids also saved Fowler. It provided him with a public health issue of the gravest importance which distracted attention from the growing turmoil in the health service. Aids helped make him, and now he is repaying the debt.
He travelled to nine cities and reports that, despite a huge expansion of treatment, the prejudice he encountered in Thatcher’s Cabinet is alive and well – and still threatening lives. Stigma – against gays, sex workers, drug users and anyone who is HIV positive – is a key factor sustaining the epidemic.
It is a pacey read and its insistence that tolerance and harm reduction are the only way forward is bound to make Tory-supporting colonels in the shires splutter. For that alone, it is to be warmly commended.
But this overarching strategy, while unimpeachable, fails to acknowledge the diversity of Aids. At the end of his world tour, Fowler concludes that Sydney has the best policy on Aids. Yet two pages later he writes of the “relentless rise in new infections”, up 10 per cent in 2012, the biggest increase for two decades. Something is still being missed.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 VMAs 2015: Was Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus' awkward acceptance put-down real or staged?
- 2 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 3 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 4 Chaos breaks out in courtroom as father attacks killer of three-year-old daughter
- 5 I like Corbyn, but let's face it: we don't need another white man at the head of a political party
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge on the show?'
Trevor Noah, Edinburgh Fringe review: New Daily Show host warms up in inspired style
X Factor 2015: Ratings drop almost 2 million compared to last year's launch show
VMAs 2015: Kanye West runs for president, Nicki Minaj calls out Miley Cyrus and the list of winners in full
VMAs 2015: Taylor Swift and her buddy Kendrick Lamar clean-up at awards - full list of winners
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms