Political interference hindered war on Aids

THE SEXUAL ignorance of ministers hampered government attempts to educate the public about Aids, research to be published this week will show. Tens of thousands of pounds were wasted and Aids campaigns were frequently confused and contradictory.

The report highlights the campaign from 1986 to 1990. It says rivalry, ignorance and prejudice among health department officials and some senior politicians, including Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister, caused delays, and work to be banned and pulped against the advice of Aids experts and after expensive market research.

'The Aids public education campaign was characterised by persistent government interference for political and ideological reasons,' the authors say.

Lady Thatcher is said to have been kept out of the campaign because she found the issue distasteful. In one incident, her office ordered the removal of a man's nipple from a photograph used in an advert.

On another occasion, a senior information officer recalled: 'The Prime Minister said that we couldn't have 'anal sex' and we had to have 'rectal sex' instead.'

The researchers, David Miller of the Media Unit, Glasgow University, and Kevin Williams of the School of Journalism at University College, Cardiff, were financed by the Economic and Social Research Council. Their study, for which more than 100 senior civil servants and government officials were interviewed, will be presented at a conference at the South Bank University in London on Saturday.

The study blames government intervention, as well as disagreements and distrust between the then Department of Health and Social Security and the Health Education Authority, for delays in running campaigns and the fact that some campaigns and education materials never saw publication.

Interviewees said that some ministers knew little about sex and were unsympathetic towards homosexuals. They were also keen to use a moral, rather than a medical message.

A DHSS official said of a minister involved in the campaign: '(He) had real problems. He was deeply ignorant about sexual matters - he was unable to pronounce 'vagina'. You've no idea what a problem it is to talk to someone who doesn't believe in sex anyway.'

Another official said of a discussion on gay men: 'One minister didn't know what oral sex was . . . he had to be told. He said 'They don't, do they?' '

The first mass advertising was planned for 1986 and was supposed to be a series of fairly explicit advertisements in national newspapers. Market research said the adverts 'worked well'. According to DHSS officials, Sir Donald Acheson, then the chief medical officer, became 'dreadfully alarmed because the prime minister had said that she wanted nothing to do with it'.

Some DHSS officials said even Sir Donald seemed reluctant to discuss the subject with them, so they had to wait until he was on a train returning from a conference in Newcastle. An official recalled: 'About nine people clustered round this poor fellow, who didn't want to talk (in a public place) about water sports (sex with urine) and rimming and that sort of thing.

'And casual business people were looking over as they wandered through to the buffet or the lavatory. So it was very, very difficult to pin him down.'

In 1987 the Government launched two television adverts featuring icebergs crumbling into the sea and, in the second, the word 'Aids' being chiselled into a gravestone. Both were criticised for failing to provide information about the virus or safe sex.

But a Department of Health spokesman said: 'The criterion for deciding whether a campaign is successful is whether it does the job. There's a very high awareness of the risks from HIV and Aids.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all