AIDS education in the 1980s

AIDS education in the 1980s

In the summer of 1986 I sat in our attic on my own and wondered how to get started with the charity’s AIDS education work. In those days long before the coming of the internet, writing letters was the answer, to anybody who had been mentioned in the newspapers as being interested in AIDS, and all the national healthcare organisations I could think of who might be interested in the setting up of a new AIDS charity that had some funds for AIDS education. Then I waited, but initially all I got was a stunning silence.5

Annabel-attic

Then one day, just as the children got home from school I got a phone call from a Richard Wells, at the Royal College of Nursing. He wanted to organise a Care in the Community Conference could we possibly help? “We have got our first project”, I shouted out excitedly to Pete, and so it was that the first UK HIV/AIDS Care in the Community Conference, funded by AVERT, took place on January 26th 1987.6 The opening of the conference was to be the first time that I spoke in public about the work of AVERT.7

I had also written to the National Union of Students, and we agreed to help with the costs of an AIDS information pack.8 9 All went well until they asked if we could help them with producing a leaflet. Could I write the text?

I didn’t like to say no but I had never written a health information leaflet before. However, I had some literature that had been sent to me from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. So sitting at our dining room table, I cut and pasted, and turned American English into British English, until I had something which seemed satisfactory in explaining the basic facts. I sent it to the NUS and they used it in their campaign, the first UK AIDS campaign to specifically target students.10 By early 1987 the factsheet was also being used by a number of local AIDS education workshops.11

AIDS awareness grants were also given to amongst other organisations, the Bureau of Hygiene and Tropical Diseases for their AIDS Newsletter, and the College of Health for their pamphlet on “AIDS and the Government”.1213 This pamphlet was later to be circulated as one of the main initial documents for the Cabinet Committee on AIDS to consider.14 A grant was also given towards the holding of the second Social Aspects of AIDS conference in November 1987, and another towards a conference and associated book on the Psychiatric and Psychosocial Aspects of AIDS and HIV.1516

Advertising the location of the Chinese Community Health Care CentreAdvertising the location of the Chinese Community Health Care Centre
We also supported some local initiatives including providing funding for the Chinese Community Health Care Centre, the setting up of the local Sussex University AIDS Campaign, and a grant to our local hospice St. Catherine’s, in order that they had some additional single rooms and could expand their admissions policy to include HIV +ve patients with opportunistic cancers.171819 Such was the irrational fear of infection at the time, that there was no possibility of people with HIV being nursed in the general wards of the hospice alongside cancer patients who were not HIV positive.
AIDS in Southern Africa

It was also in the summer of 1986, and through Lord Young at the College of Health, that we tried to make our first contribution to the subject of AIDS in Southern Africa. One of the attractions to us of funding the Bureau of Hygiene newsletter, was that it reported on news from around the world. It seemed like an opportunity to do something more direct when we funded a colleague of Lord Young, Peter Fraenkel to go out to investigate the developing problem of AIDS in Zambia, and the possibility of helping the Zambian authorities to further develop their HIV/AIDS education programmes.20 However, it was also noted by Dr Tony Pinching of St. Mary’s Hospital who had recently been in Zambia that:21

” the Zambian authorities have made a great deal of progress in the field of health education and have in a sense achieved much more than our own government in a much shorter time scale ”

and nothing further resulted from Peter Fraenkel’s visit.

 University AIDS Campaign, and a grant to our local hospice St. Catherine’s, in order that they had some additional single rooms and could expand their admissions policy to include HIV +ve patients with opportunistic cancers.171819 Such was the irrational fear of infection at the time, that there was no possibility of people with HIV being nursed in the general wards of the hospice alongside cancer patients who were not HIV positive.

AIDS in Southern Africa

It was also in the summer of 1986, and through Lord Young at the College of Health, that we tried to make our first contribution to the subject of AIDS in Southern Africa. One of the attractions to us of funding the Bureau of Hygiene newsletter, was that it reported on news from around the world. It seemed like an opportunity to do something more direct when we funded a colleague of Lord Young, Peter Fraenkel to go out to investigate the developing problem of AIDS in Zambia, and the possibility of helping the Zambian authorities to further develop their HIV/AIDS education programmes.20 However, it was also noted by Dr Tony Pinching of St. Mary’s Hospital who had recently been in Zambia that:21

” the Zambian authorities have made a great deal of progress in the field of health education and have in a sense achieved much more than our own government in a much shorter time scale “

and nothing further resulted from Peter Fraenkel’s visit.

Icebergs & Tombstones

The government leaflet sent to every householdThe government leaflet sent to every household

By the end of 1986 the government had increased its action on AIDS with plans for a leaflet to be sent to every household in the country, and the infamous “Icebergs and Tombstones” TV advertisements were taking place.

There was no longer a need in quite the same way for the AIDS awareness work that AVERT had been funding, and so we turned our attention to advocacy work, and to the production of educational materials which would have an impact on people’s behaviour.

AIDS advocacy

We never had an exact plan for AVERT’s advocacy work, but we did know that we would try and speak out when there were things that needed to be done.

One example of this comes from the various meetings that Pete attended, to either learn about or talk about AIDS. At one of these Tony Newton, the then minister of health talked about providing one leaflet per address. Pete asked further about this and it was confirmed that every university would only receive one leaflet for all their students. Thanks to Pete’s intervention all the universities were contacted in the next few days regarding their student numbers and the number of leaflets they required, and many boxes of leaflets were delivered within a few days to every further education establishment.30

It was also the start of our writing to the press which continued for many years, but which started with a letter about HIV testing being published in the Times in November 1986.31

AIDS education & advocacy

As 1986 became 1987 and then 1988, it was clear not only how great a need there was for AIDS education work, but also how great a need there was for advocacy. There was a need for people to speak out about the need for AIDS education and how AIDS was not just going to affect gay men and drug users. There was a need for people to speak about the urgency for AIDS education to not only be planned but implemented.

I was during this time to meet a wide range of people who I would other wise never have met. In my comfortable middle class world, the stigma of AIDS continued and the belief that AIDS affected other people. At the same time I started to learn of the deaths of some of the people who I met and who had been speaking out about AIDS.