Letters: Sexual health

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Use of herpes stigma to encourage condoms abuses our rights

Sir: We all want to see more people being responsible about sex, using condoms and having check-ups (report, 21 July). But reinforcing stigma and laying a guilt trip on people with genital herpes is not the way to do it. It simply makes the people who are already diagnosed even more miserable.

The Health Protection Agency's annual report on the nation's sexual health shows an increase in the diagnosis of many sexually transmitted infections, including genital herpes. Professor Pat Troop, the HPA chief executive, said: "It is important to remember that herpes infections are carried for life." Dr Gwenda Hughes, also of the HPA, said: "Genital herpes is a lifelong infection; it's not curable." Lisa Power, of the Terrence Higgins Trust, added: "This is a lifelong and unpleasant condition which will require ongoing treatment, and not something to be taken lightly."

Herpes simplex has two names, "genital herpes" when it is on the genitals and a "cold sore" when it is on the mouth. Two-thirds of us carry one of the viruses that causes it. It usually goes undiagnosed because most people who have it either get very mild symptoms or no symptoms.

Chickenpox and glandular fever are also herpes viruses carried by most of us. They are also lifelong infections; chickenpox can recur as shingles and can be very unpleasant, but no one is made to feel guilty about this.

The main problem for patients with genital herpes is stigma and psychological trauma. "Will I ever have another relationship?" "Will anyone want me again?" The Herpes Viruses Association is the charity that helps these patients put their lives back together. Reinforcing herpes stigma as a cheap way of encouraging condom use abuses the human rights of millions of us. It has to stop.



Scientists trying to tame the climate

Sir: It is interesting to learn from Michael McCarthy's article (23 July) that a major scientific study demonstrates that global warming is likely to be responsible for the greatly increased UK summer rainfall and concomitant flooding.

A possible route to resolution of this problem is to engineer a controlled global cooling. The Nobel Laureate, Professor Paul Crutzen, has proposed one scheme, involving injection of reflecting sulphur particles into the stratosphere, and Dr Roger Angel has advocated the positioning of mirrors at a zero-gravity point on the line between the sun and the Earth.

A third possibility involves increasing the reflectivity of low-level shallow clouds which cover about a quarter of the oceanic surface. This would be achieved by spraying copious quantities of small seawater particles from wind-powered vessels passing underneath these clouds.

A significant fraction of these would be transported by turbulence into the clouds, where they would act as the centres for the formation of additional cloud droplets, producing an increase in the fraction of sunlight reflected back into space.

This scheme is being investigated by Professor Tom Choularton, University of Manchester, Professor Stephen Salter, University of Edinburgh, Professor Mike Smith and Dr Alan Gadian, University of Leeds, their colleagues and myself.

Calculations indicate that a doubling of cloud droplet numbers would produce a global cooling which would balance the warming associated with a doubling of CO2 concentration.

One advantage of this scheme is that if necessary it could be switched off immediately, with conditions returning to normal within a few days. Others are that all energy required is derived from the wind, and the only raw material needed is seawater.

It is lamentable that the UK Government (and others) has so far been resistant to providing the trivial amount of funding required to conduct these studies.



Sir: We are told we must build on flood plains, so let's be clever and positive and make this an opportunity for something good. I hear that we should force the developers to include flood management systems meaning, I presume, embankments, because drains will not work when the river levels rise above them.

The cost of those, if they are to be remotely effective, will be unimaginable; they will look awful and be a permanent burden on local councils.

We need houses on the equivalent of stilts. These should not look like houses on spindly legs and the space could be used for parking, either fully open car-ports or single-skin walled as a double, treble even quadruple garage and beside it the space to be used as the equivalent of a "ground floor cellar" recreation room or utility store.

There must be no boilers, electricity meters, gas meters or any other service equipment down there, only feeder electricity points on earth leakage trips running down. An insurance limit (say £1,000) to cover the value of the stuff kept there could be set. Such houses would look relatively normal, indeed could look wonderful with balconies/decking on the better ones, would offer complete off-road parking and provide secure housing in the event of floods.

With creative imagination, building on flood plains becomes a perfectly sensible, even good, thing to do, with many advantages in improved house features.



Sir: The flooding is a forceful reminder of three inescapable truths: we are part of the natural world and not above it or in control of it; everything in nature is connected to, and has an effect on, everything else; there is no agency, human or divine, to give us a copper-bottomed guarantee that disaster will never strike us or our loved ones.

The first truth should lessen our arrogance so we do not act as though the universe was designed for our benefit. The second should remind us that all our actions have consequences. My paved garden contributes to increased run-off that will increase the risk of flooding but my water butts will decrease that risk. The third truth should save us from adding to our troubles by constantly seeking someone to blame when there may be no one or nothing to blame.

We can design houses that can cope better with periodic inundations; we can take individual actions in our homes and gardens that allow more rain to be absorbed, and that may lessen the impact of climate change. And we will have to pay for it.



Sir: With huge areas of farmland likely to be flooded in winter and summer, perhaps we should be looking in that direction for future flood defences.

Instead of building walls, which only concentrate the flow and pressure to be released downstream, perhaps the solution is to dig canals. Unless we have a huge increase in sea levels, the Fenland seems reasonably safe.

Here in Suffolk, we find flooding is a problem only where drainage channels have been encased in pipes. Since the fields of Worcestershire and Gloucestershire will produce little or nothing in years of flood, the Government should offer to purchase land to be converted into canals to take excess river water.

The work would be relatively quickly and cheaply done and the resultant waterways would offer leisure opportunities as well as safeguarding property.



England does not stand for Britain

Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith (Comment, 23 July) should know better, making general statements about the British buying properties in France, then continuing without drawing breath to refer to them as English. If he meant English, why didn't he say so at the start?

He is not alone. Recently, your columnist Bruce Anderson, who also should know better, wrote that the English are an island race. They are not: England has two land borders. Even if he meant to say British, or even the UK population, he was still wide of the mark because we have a land frontier with Eire.

In a post-devolution Britain, the tendency to use British and English as synonymous touches raw nerves in these British countries that are not England.

England is a country (lying to the west of Wales and Ireland, and to the south of Scotland). Britain is a geographic term that has historically been flexible, but now includes the independent countries of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and northern Ireland (UK) is a sovereign state. To confuse these or to use them as interchangeable can be offensive, and tends to confirm suspicion, long held in these Celtic parts, that in the English mind at least, British means Greater England.



Face it, cannabis use is here to stay

Sir: I am increasingly annoyed by the idea that reclassifying cannabis back to a class B drug will have any impact on its use (letters, 24 July).

I agree that some strains of cannabis can lead to mental health problems, particularly in children. But this should be an argument to legalise and monitor the use of the drug.

As a drugs worker, I see people arrested for possession of cannabis. The problem is that the drug is now grown in this country in poor conditions, resulting in the crop being sprayed with Methadone, morphine or any other substance to increase the potency. It is these drugs that are causing the problems; our children do not know what they are smoking.

Cannabis use is here to stay. You could make penalties harsher, change the classification, imprison people and have no impact on its use. If we accept that this is true, then it is our moral duty to make it as safe as possible.

The often-quoted "skunk" is a cross between the indica and sativa plants. The indica plant is the most effective muscle relaxant and painkiller. The sativa plant provides the "high" often associated with skunk use.

If we can educate people on the different plants and their effects, we can start to have an impact on its use.

We have to stop this campaign of fear which has absolutely no effect on drug consumption. Drug use is here to stay; accept it and start making it as safe as possible.



Sir: Gordon Brown would do well to listen to presidential hopefuls Republican Representative Ron Paul and former Democrat Senator Mike Gravel (among many others) who would tell him in no uncertain terms that the "war on drugs" is an abject failure causing, not preventing, the "drug-related" problems society faces. It is simply moralistic prohibition redirected.

Cannabis remains a far safer substance than alcohol or tobacco: claims of stronger "types" can be made only by using dishonest manipulation of statistical evidence.

Historically, hashish use can be dated to earlier than 1000BC; Moroccan and Afghan hashish of the kind smoked in the 1960s was as potent, if not more so, than today's "skunk".

If strong strains of cannabis are what Mr Brown is worried about, legalisation is the only way to allow users to make an informed choice.

The present situation, where users must take what they are given, is equivalent to not knowing if what one is buying is non-alcoholic lager or Smirnoff Import Strength.



Profitable chargers

Sir: Kari Olafson is benefiting from the extensive range of choice available in a free market (letter, 23 July). And this obviously suits the manufacturers, because they can earn as much on a charger as on a cheap phone. Suits the retailer too: my local mobile phone retailer told me his takings of £150 in the first hour of business yesterday were entirely on chargers. So who's to complain?



Poor-value trains

Sir: So train journeys will somehow become wonderful but woefully expensive (report, 25 July). I would like someone to explain how much better our train journeys will become with respect to European ones. At present, a return on the fast and smart TGV, Paris to Lyon costs £102. For a similar distance but at an inferior speed, a return London to Leeds costs £177. Nowhere in Ruth Kelly's exposition does she reassure us that having to pay even more will significantly diminish the excruciatingly poor value for money of British train journeys.



Jordan's grab

Sir: Mr Davies (letter, 24 July) may think the latest map of the Middle East reflecting the Arab extinction of Israel in favour of "Palestine" is making a historical point. In reality, it shows that present-day Jordan makes no concessions to the Palestinians in the territory it grabbed when the UN (not just the West) proposed a two-state solution in 1947. The Palestinians will stand no chance if ever the Arab powers assert themselves over their failure to accept a Palestinian state in 1947.



Gift to Bismarck

Sir: Kaiser Wilhelm I gave the Sachsenhausen estate to Bismarck in 1871, not "early in the 20th century". ("Don't keep it in the family", 19 July). The gift was in recognition of his service in founding the German Reich. Bismarck died in 1898.



Where's Orwell?

Sir: Walking recently from Hampstead Heath I noticed that a commemorative plaque to George Orwell (aka Eric Blair ) had been taken away and also that the small stone effigy of his head had disappeared from over the shop door where Orwell worked (c1935) at Hampstead. Why?



Filling bus seats

Sir: Elsa Woodward says "millions of empty bus seats except in central London", (letter, 24 July). Between 10am and 4pm, Oxford Street is nose to tail with vast, fuel-guzzling buses, all less than 15 per cent occupied. How about a joint service by bus operators on a five-minute schedule from Tottenham Court Road to Hyde Park Corner?