OutRage, August 1983:
Adam Carr / Alison Thorne / Chris Carter / Chris Gill / community responses / Danny Vadasz / David Rogers / Gary Sauvarin / Jamie Gardiner / Lee Visser / media criticised / Melbourne / Peter Knight / Peter Lademan / Phil Carswell / Red Cross Blood Bank / Victoria / Victorian AIDS Action Committee
The Victorian AIDS Action Committee (VAAC) was established at a public meeting in Melbourne on 12 July. Over seventy people attended the meeting at the Laird O’Cockpen Hotel, to which all gay groups in Victoria had been invited to send delegates.
All speakers at the meeting strongly supported the need for an umbrella organisation to represent the gay community in matters relating to the AIDS outbreak and its political fallout. The meeting decided that all gay groups in Victoria should be asked to endorse VAAC and recognise its status as the community’s sole authorised representative. VAAC will consist of a management committee and several working parties dealing with specific subjects, such as research and information gathering, education (of the general public and of the gay community), medical liaison, media liaison, lobbying and support and counselling.
The management committee elected by the meeting will consist of Adam Carr, Phil Carswell, Chris Carter, Jamie Gardiner, Chris Gill, Peter Knight, Peter Lademan, David Rogers, Gary Sauvarin, Alison Thorne, Danny Vadasz and Lee Visser. This committee will meet at least monthly and will deal with VAAC’s ongoing business. At its meeting on 19 July, the committee elected Phil Carswell as Chairperson, David Rogers as Secretary, Peter Lademan as Treasurer and Adam Carr as media spokesperson.
VAAC will make its public debut at a Media Conference on 31 July. It will continue to inform the gay community of its work through regular media releases. The public meeting decided that there should be quarterly public meetings of the gay community to monitor the committee’s work.
The only clearly-diagnosed case of AIDS yet confirmed in Australia occurred in Melbourne during July. The patient, a 43 year old man, died in Prince Henry’s Hospital on 8 July. He had been living in the United States for eight years and was already ill when he returned to Australia.
This case caused a great deal of media attention because it was originally reported that the patient was heterosexual. Apparently this report originated from an attempt by the man’s doctors to conceal his sexual orientation from his relatives. In the Commonwealth Health Department report on his case he is described as ‘bisexual’.
What must be stressed about this case is the fact that it was not contracted in Australia, nor could it have possibly been passed on in Australia.
Apart from this case, there are still no confirmed AIDS cases in Australia. The Melbourne case is only the second, the first being Prof Ron Penny’s case involving an American visitor in Sydney. Even here, Prof Penny’s account published in the Medical Journal of Australia makes it clear that the diagnosis of pneumocystic carinii pneumonia in the patient was uncertain, and the fact that this patient was discharged and returned to the US in apparent good health increases the doubt. In the US, PCP in AIDS cases is a very severe condition with a high mortality rate. It is at least possible that this patient did not have AIDS.
The media of course continue to report that there are all kinds of numbers of AIDS cases in Australia, ranging up to 30. These reports are all false. The media have still not grasped the distinction between AIDS and the condition known as prodrome or LNS, which doctors are finding fairly regularly among gay men. LNS is characterised by lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph glands in the neck, armpits and groin), and sometimes by fever, weight loss, unexplained cough, night sweats and diarrhoea. The link between LNS and AIDS, if there is one, is unclear. Some LNS patients have gone on to develop AIDS, but most have not, and it is possible that the two conditions are quite separate.
Blood donations in Melbourne have fallen by 11% during July as a result of the fear about giving blood caused by distorted media coverage of AIDS, according to the Blood Bank. This has caused a serious shortage of whole blood, although the situation is not desperate. A spokesperson for the blood bank told OutRage that reports that the Bank had barred homosexual men from giving blood were not true. She said that all potential donor were being given the Bank’s information leaflet about AIDS and asked to assess their own level of risk.
The Blood Bank has had to reassure donors that there is no way they can contract AIDS by giving blood, and that the risks of contracting it from blood transfusions is, if it exists at all, very small. This sort of misunderstanding is another by-product of distorted media reporting of AIDS, which reached a peak around the time of the Gay Freedom Day Parades at the end of June. The Blood Bank has had to resort to soliciting for donors in the streets to meet the shortfall.