Spreading the notion that lifestyle, not a virus, is to blame (CORRECTED)

 

CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 13 AUGUST 1993) APPENDED TO THIS ARTICLE

THERE has never been a disease quite like Aids. This is perhaps the only statement that everyone involved with the debate about heterosexual Aids agrees upon.

Andrew Neil, editor of the Sunday Times and a supporter of the heterosexual 'myth', has said there is an unholy alliance between gay activists wanting to ensure Aids is not classed as a gay plague, and the 'moral majority' who want to fight promiscuity.

'Never in the history of public health policy have so many lies and distortions been told about a disease than Aids. It's resulted in a massive misallocation of resources,' he said recently. 'You have more of a chance to get run over by a car on the way to see your girlfriend than you have of contracting Aids from them.'

The Sunday Times has helped to foster the myth that heterosexuals are not in danger. In 1990 it serialised a book by Michael Fumento, an American analyst, who dismissed suggestions that 'we are all at risk'.

Mr Fumento's argument was based on figures showing that the overwhelming majority of heterosexuals who had Aids fell into high-risk groups, such as drug users and their partners. His theme was that white heterosexuals in middle-class America had nothing to fear from a disease that Aids activists were trying to promote as a danger to us all.

'Other than fairly spectacular rare occurrences, such as shark attacks and maulings by wild animals, it is difficult to name any broad category of death that will take fewer lives than heterosexually transmitted Aids,' Mr Fumento wrote. 'A middle-class, non-intravenous-drug-abusing heterosexual in America has less chance of getting Aids in the next year than of being struck by lightning.'

British commentators, such as James Le Fanu, a London GP and newspaper columnist, quickly took up the cause. The risk of heterosexual Aids, he said recently, is 'tantamount to being struck by lightning'.

Britain took a lead in promoting safe sex. Advertising campaigns of icebergs and tombstones gave way to a feeling in some quarters that heterosexuals were being panicked into believing in a sexual apocalypse.

Mr Neil said yesterday that initially he gave prominence to Aids 'dissidents' because it was right for a newspaper to publish information that others were trying to suppress. However, he added, recent events have shown that 'the facts were beginning to swing the dissidents' way'.

Undoubtedly there were gay activists who feared that the Government would downgrade Aids as a sexually transmitted disease of a minority. But the Government's strategy, clearly influenced by the views of respected scientists who had genuine cause for concern about the spread of HIV in the mid Eighties, could only have been right given the lethality of HIV and the threat it posed - and still poses - to the wider population.

Last year, when Roy Cornes, a 24- year-old haemophiliac, was found to have infected at least four of his girlfriends with HIV, heterosexual transmission briefly became reality. However, when it subsequently emerged that anal intercourse had taken place, newspapers were quick to dismiss the warning of senior health officials as ill-founded and irresponsible. 'Straight' sex, they said, was safe.

What is remarkable in the story of Aids is the extent to which some newspapers have highlighted the views of a fringe minority who have no proven track record in Aids research. A number of articles on Aids in the Sunday Times, for example, have extensively quoted Gordon Stewart, who retired as professor of public health in Glasgow nearly 10 years ago and is on record as saying that 'the alarm (about heterosexual Aids) was based on the misapprehension that Aids was infectious'.

Here lies a clue to what is really behind much of the fuss over heterosexual Aids. Many of the proponents of the heterosexual myth also believe that Aids is a disease of lifestyle - of homosexuality and drug use - and not a syndrome caused by HIV. The Sunday Times itself has devoted pages to the discredited notion that HIV does not cause Aids, again using Professor Stewart's fringe views to support this.

Aids researchers and doctors in the front line can only hope that one myth will undermine the other.

CORRECTION

In an Independent report on 21 May of views on the contribution of lifestyle to the Aids virus, we quoted Gordon Stewart as stating that 'the alarm . . . (about heterosexual Aids) was based on the misapprehension that Aids was infectious . . . '. Professor Stewart has pointed out that this was a misquote which first appeared in an article he wrote in the Daily Mail in April. The sentence should have read: 'The alarm . . . was raised on a misunderstanding about how Aids was infectious . . .'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Sport
David Silva strokes home his and City's second goal
football
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

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
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas