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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine