Beware false comfort for heterosexuals

Tom Wilkie warns against those who preach that the HIV virus is not a danger for us all

Share
Related Topics
Let us now praise Norman Fowler. Alone among Margaret Thatcher's cabinet ministers Lord Fowler, as he now is, saved thousands, if not tens of thousands, of British lives.

For when he was Secretary of State for Health, Lord Fowler had the political courage to listen to and act upon the advice of his Chief Medical Officer, Donald Acheson. Sir Donald had warned that if the Government did not act, the country faced an epidemic of the new, incurable and fatal disease Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids). The problem was that any action would involve the British Government talking frankly about sex.

Although the official safe sex campaigns were criticised at the time, the fact remains that the British Government acted earlier and more wisely than most other Western countries. About 9,000 Britons have died of the disease whereas in the United States, with just four times our population level, the "moral" majority intervened and more than 318,000 Americans have died. In France, Italy and Spain, where no coherent public health messages were disseminated, the incidence of new Aids cases is running at up to four times the British rate.

The projected British Aids epidemic failed to materialise in part because of social factors - Britons are more boringly monogamous than anyone had believed possible - and in part because of the Government's safe sex campaign.

But, by a logic that defeats rational dissection, the very success of the safe sex campaign has now been transmuted into evidence that it was never needed at all.

Yesterday, the Daily Mail launched a broadside against the Aids lobby which had foisted the "myth" of heterosexual Aids upon an innocent and unsuspecting British population at great cost to the taxpayer.

On Monday of next week, Neville Hodgkinson, the former science correspondent of the Sunday Times, publishes a densely written book Aids - the failure of contemporary science (Fourth Estate), which tries to justify the bizarre thesis he first propounded in the pages of the Sunday Times, that HIV is not responsible for Aids.

He argues, in the face of all scientific evidence, that HIV, if it exists at all, is but a harmless passenger or spectator, and that the devastating destruction of the immune system suffered by those with Aids results from a lifestyle of drug abuse and/or promiscuous anal sex.

The net effect of both campaigns is to diminish the danger of Aids and relegate it as truly a gay plague so that heterosexuals in Britain can screw without scruple - and, especially, without condoms. It is the logic of the man who fell from the top of the Empire State Building who was heard from the first floor window saying to himself "so far, so good".

Globally, in 1996, Aids is a disease of heterosexuals, although gay men remain the most affected group in western countries and the death toll among them is terrible. Exact figures are not available, but it seems probable that at least 5,000 gay men have died from Aids in Britain and more than 200,000 in the US.

If there is any consolation or comfort to be gained from this tragic waste of human life, these men did not die in vain, in so far as their deaths have acted as a global early-warning signal. A touching analogy is with the delicate canaries that coal-miners used to take with them down the pit, because these fragile birds were more exquisitely sensitive to danger than the miners themselves.

There are signs, however, that the signals are not being heeded. In Britain today, there are more than 7,000 men and women who have been infected with HIV through heterosexual intercourse. Some of them got infected abroad, through holiday romances or casual encounters on business trips.

The infection rate among gays is falling, but that among heterosexuals is rising. By the end of the century, according to the official estimates, there will be about 1,200 new cases of Aids among British gays and about 525 among heterosexuals.

Every case of Aids is an individual tragedy, but that the absolute numbers are so small is a cause to rejoice not to curse the money that was so well spent in the past.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role ...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Executive - UK / International

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a long-established, renown...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - Signs and Graphics

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The key requirements of the rol...

Recruitment Genius: Company Commercial / Company Property Solicitor

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This south Warwickshire based s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Old London Bridge; how to fight UKIP; and wolves

John Rentoul
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible