AIDS: new theories, more panic

Adam Carr warns of a gathering political storm over AIDS in Outrage, July 1983:

The AIDS scare is a news story that continues to develop quickly, more quickly than a monthly magazine can adequately cover. In Australia, even before AIDS has affected a single Australian citizen, it has become a major public health issue and a political weapon. At the AIDS public meeting in Melbourne on 16 June, one speaker, a lesbian, pointed out that while she was at no risk from AIDS, she, and all gay people, were at risk from the homophobia that the AIDS scare is generating. Events over the past month have demonstrated the accuracy of this point. There is no doubt that the deliberate creation of public fear and the spread of false information is going on, and that AIDS is being used to attack gay people and gay rights in Australia.

Some examples:

Wrong definitions: The media continue to report that there are five, ten, twelve AIDS cases in Australia. This is absolutely false. At the time of writing (25 June), there were no AIDS cases in Australia. There has only ever been one, involving an American visitor in Sydney who has now returned to the US. No Australian has contracted AIDS. The source of this misinformation is the inexcusable ignorance of many doctors and journalists about the correct definition of AIDS. The cases being referred to involve gay men with immune deficiency but without major illness. This condition is called prodrome or GLNS. It is not AIDS
and does not lead to AIDS.

Medical Panic: Assorted doctors and public health officials have been making wild and irresponsible statements. Dr Harry Michelmore, Vice-President of the Venereologists Society of NSW, said that the refusal of medical technicians at Westmead Hospital to do tests on blood samples of suspected AIDS patients was a ‘reasonable reaction until mechanisms are established which will eliminate the virus’. In fact, such mechanisms were laid down last December (Dept of Health, Communicable Diseases intelligence, 3/12/82), and have always been followed when doing tests for hepatitis B. There has not been one case of AIDS in a public-health or laboratory worker.

On 11 June, the Medical Journal of Australia came out with a lurid front cover featuring a black-caped skull, to mark their ‘AIDS special’. The MJA office was flooded with complaints about this. A spokesperson for the MJA told OutRage that the cover had not been intended as a moral judgement. She acknowledged that the choice of graphics had been ‘unfortunate’.

Dr Graham Rouch of the Victorian Health Commission also had a go, advising gay visitors to San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade not to have any casual sexual encounters while they’re there.

On 10 June, Dr Atuhiro Sabatani, a CSIRO research biologist, announced that ‘promiscuous male homosexuals’ should live in ghettos so they would not spread AIDS, which he compared to the bubonic plague. ‘Promiscuity is degrading to society and it is possible that nature evolves its own bugs from time to time to keep the population in check’. This ‘expert opinion’ comes from a scientist employed with public funds.

Political exploitation: The Honourable and Reverend Fred Nile has been his usual disgusting self, capitalising on public fears to make politically-motivated anti-gay pronouncements. Nile called for Sydney’s Stonewall Day to be banned, and for gay bars and saunas to be closed In Victoria, the Concerned Parents Association said that AIDS showed the need to abolish sex education. Other right-wing comment has called for the dismissal of gay teachers, a ban on gay travel and registration and screening of all gays. There is no doubt we will see a lot more of this, and that it will become even worse if and when there are actual AIDS cases in Australia. Gays employed in the health, teaching and food-handling areas will be particularly vulnerable, even though there is no evidence that AIDS is transmissible through casual contact or by food handling, and a lot of evidence that it is not.  (Full story – on Adam’s website)

PHOTO: Panel of doctors at the [16 June ALSO] public meeting. Photo by James Spence.

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Australia's response to the AIDS epidemic, in real time, 30 years on.
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