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12 December 1996

No Cuts in AIDS Research

Dr Stuart Derbyshire calls for redirection in AIDS funding away from the moral crusade against sex and towards finding a cure

The Department of Health has released figures revealing the level of funding allocated to AIDS research and care in the UK. These figures were seized by a number of newspapers as an example of the imbalance of funding allocated to AIDS in relation to other diseases. A number of national dailies ran features alleging that AIDS gets 'too much cash'.

The real tragedy of AIDS is not that too much money has been spent on it at all, but that the vast majority of the money has been spent not on finding a cure but on a moral campaign to scare the wits out of everybody. The main thrust of the government's campaign has been to assert that everybody is at risk and everybody must take precautions. Rather than acknowledging that any heterosexual AIDS epidemic was a myth and that high risk groups should be targeted, the government created a moral climate to terrify the whole population about the dangers of sex.

The Daily Mail jubilantly pointed to one example of high spending on AIDS to 'prove' their point:

"In the Northern and Yorkshire region, the sum allocated this year to the district health authorities for Aids prevention and treatment was 13.07 million. With just 59 cases in the region over the previous 12 months, that was the equivalent of an astonishing 221 508 per case."

The article went on to reveal that not only is AIDS not particularly prevalent - 541 deaths in 1995 compared with 140 790 deaths from cancer - it is also prejudiced. Of the 12 798 people diagnosed with AIDS since 1982, only 166 were not in a high risk group. 'Gays and junkies get AIDS, the remaining population can rest easy' was the tenor of the argument.

Regular readers of Living Marxism would have already known this, in fact they would have known this for nearly ten years:

'There is no good evidence that AIDS is likely to spread rapidly in the West among heterosexuals.'

(The Truth about the AIDS Panic, 1987 by Living Marxism writers Dr Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Milligan in 1987, at the beginning of the official scare campaign surrounding AIDS.)

None of this should be allowed to detract from the devastation of AIDS. That 9148 people have died of Aids since 1982 is a tragedy by any standard regardless of how or why the disease was contracted. The idea that funding for AIDS would not have been forthcoming had we all known that it was minority disease back in the early eighties is insulting both to gay men and to medical professionals. Far from helping research into AIDS, the moral claptrap, lies and evasions that have surrounded the disease since its discovery have quite considerably held research back.

Millions of pounds have been poured into useless campaigns to moralise the nation's youth regarding the virtues of condoms and monogamy. Millions more have been wasted on testing hundreds of thousands of people for HIV who literally ran a greater risk of being killed on the way to the clinic. Finally, there has emerged an entire industry of counsellors, health educators, statisticians and advisors who have done nothing more than terrify vast numbers of people, mislead basic research into anticipating an enormous epidemic and, of course, waste money.

Despite all this, real progress in AIDS research has been made. The new generation of antiviral drugs have been shown to completely eliminate HIV from some patients. For the first time in a decade there is hope for those who are infected with HIV. How much more quickly these advances could have been made if AIDS had not been subject to political manipulation we will never know but one thing is certain, if money is now pulled on Aids research the advances will slow down. The money currently being wasted on moralising campaigns should be diverted into basic AIDS research and treatment. 221 508 per patient can be considered a good starting figure, more may be necessary. The fact that other diseases receive only a fraction of the funding for AIDS is pitiful and should be seen as disgraceful in its own right, not used as an argument to cut AIDS research.

Scientists need to learn to retain an independent stance when carrying out their investigations (whether on AIDS, BSE, E-coli or anything else) and should not be defensive about receiving decent funding.

Dr. Stuart Derbyshire
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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