Health threat to Aids show

HIV-infected blood could shut live exhibition
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The Independent Culture
A live exhibition of Aids patients, designed to show the public that people with the condition should not be reviled, was yesterday threatened with closure by Islington council.

The council says that a sealed vial of HIV-infected blood that is part of the display at a new gallery in Smithfield, east London, poses a risk to public health. Environmental health officers told staff at the exhibition that the blood should be under lock and key or the event would have to be shut down.

Health authority workers who advised the council confirmed yesterday that the risk posed by the blood in the sealed container was minimal. The show, "Don't Be Scared", involves a number of Aids patients, from the United States and Germany, and encourages visitors to talk to and touch them. On the first day of the exhibition, one man who has had full- blown Aids for three years, publicly gave blood while taking sterile precautions. Part of the exhibit consists of phials of HIV infected blood.

Jibby Beane, the curator of the gallery, claimed there was no health risk from the blood.

She said: "There is a guard who stands next to the artists and the blood throughout the day. The visitors, staff and artists are all satisfied that there is absolutely no risk."

She added, "It is sad and ironic that the council are displaying precisely the sort of ignorance that this exhibition is designed to combat. The display is very positive, and it is very beautiful. The visitors have chatted to the artists and shown great enthusiasm."

A spokesman for Islington council last night said: "We will follow the advice of the health authority. They have advised us that a risk exists, and we will investigate further any reported breaches. The council are not prepared to take risks, no matter how small."

A spokeswoman at Camden and Islington Health Authority confirmed that they had advised the council that there was a limited risk. "The danger to public health may be very small, but the risk is just not worth taking," she said.

The man behind the exhibition, the millionaire commercials director Tony Kaye, is said to be deeply unhappy that the display has been altered. The artist and advertising guru said putting the phials of HIV infected blood in a glass case would compromise his art.

Staff at the gallery say that the action by the Labour-controlled council will generate further prejudice against those infected with HIV.

The exhibition involves several Aids sufferers chatting to visitors about their condition. The organisers hope that this will prevent misconceptions and prejudices about HIV patients becoming entrenched in the public mind.

The first day of the display attracted over 500 visitors. The Terrence Higgins Trust has given its backing to the show.

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