Is there a health crisis?
- The Public Health Challenge edited by Stephen Farrow
Hutchinson, 160 pp, £12.95, November 1987, ISBN 0 09 173165 8
- The Truth about the Aids Panic by Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Milligan
Junius, 68 pp, £1.95, March 1987, ISBN 0 948392 07 X
- Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 by Frank Mort
Routledge, 280 pp, £7.95, October 1987, ISBN 0 7102 0856 1
- Medicine and Labour: The Politics of a Profession by Steve Watkins
Lawrence and Wishart, 272 pp, £6.95, May 1987, ISBN 0 85315 639 5
Are we, or are we not, in the throes of a health crisis? Read some of what is said, and it seems as though our civilisation is about to collapse in an Aids-related catastrophe, at the very moment when the National Health Service is itself suffering Government-administered euthanasia. Listen to others, and all this is made out to he so much cant, cynically orchestrated by interested parties: on the one hand, to bash the gays; on the other, to aggrandise the medical profession still further.
Vol. 10 No. 12 · 23 June 1988
In his review of recent books about Aids and medical politics (LRB, 19 May), Roy Porter should have declared an interest. The Wellcome Foundation, for which he is a lecturer, has recently republished the British Medical Association’s handbook on Aids. The company’s drug salesmen are currently using this handbook, together with a specially-made video, as promotional aids in peddling their wares around doctors’ surgeries. Is there a conspiracy between Wellcome’s academic historian and its drug reps to savage books which challenge the prevailing consensus about Aids? I doubt it. As Don Milligan and I wrote in The Truth about the Aids Panic – and contrary to the account given in Porter’s review – ‘we do not regard the Aids panic as a conspiracy, but as something much more insidious.’ The British Government has latched onto a real, if relatively small, Aids problem in Britain as a key part of its drive to promote a return to conventional morality. Various interest groups – doctors, priests, newspaper editors, television producers, drugs companies and even medical historians – have quite spontaneously, and for their own reasons, endorsed the Government’s campaign.
Porter accuses us of ‘epidemiological ignorance’, yet fails to substantiate this accusation with a single example. But let’s follow his own advice and ‘look at the date stamp’. Our book was published in February 1987. It challenged the established epidemiological wisdom that Aids was likely to spread rapidly among heterosexuals in Britain. The number of reported cases of Aids acquired by heterosexual transmission in Britain rose from five in February 1987 to nine in February 1988. In other words, our contention that ‘there is no good evidence that Aids is likely to spread rapidly in the West among heterosexuals’ has been vindicated by the epidemiological evidence of the past 12 months.
Porter further accuses me of irresponsibility. He sneers at the disclosure in the book of the fact that I am a GP, as though that is irrelevant to its content. Yet it is as a GP that I have had to cope over the past couple of years with a weekly toll of anxiety and misery generated by the Aids panic. The ‘worried well’ are now recognised to be much more numerous than those suffering from the Aids virus. I consider that it is my responsibility to point out how fear of a disease that is mercifully rare and difficult to contract in Britain is being stirred up and exploited for political ends. It is also important to point out that the intensifying oppression of homosexuals which results from the Aids panic can only encourage the spread of the virus among gay men, who constitute nearly 90 per cent of Aids cases. The fact that your reviewer thinks it is enough to dismiss reasoned opposition to Aids hysteria with low-life jibes, sneers and assertions itself reveals the climate of irrationality that surrounds discussion of the issue in Britain today.
Barton House Health Centre, London NW1