AIDS: Charities Counting the Cost; Birmingham MP Clare Short Has Sparked Controversy with Her Call for Condoms to Be as Freely Available as Coca-Cola to Stem the Spread of HIV and AIDS - but the Amount of Cash Being Spent on the High-Profile Killer Is Causing Disquiet on the Charity Fron T. ALISON HANDLEY Reports

By Handley, Alison | Birmingham Evening Mail (England), November 26, 1998 | Go to article overview

AIDS: Charities Counting the Cost; Birmingham MP Clare Short Has Sparked Controversy with Her Call for Condoms to Be as Freely Available as Coca-Cola to Stem the Spread of HIV and AIDS - but the Amount of Cash Being Spent on the High-Profile Killer Is Causing Disquiet on the Charity Fron T. ALISON HANDLEY Reports


Handley, Alison, Birmingham Evening Mail (England)


Anne is 28 years old. She is a mother of a beautiful five year-old son - and she is HIV positive. The Birmingham mum knows that she may not live to see boy blossom into adulthood.

But she is determined, for his sake, not to give up the fight and to make the most of every day she has left.

"They are finding out more about HIV and AIDS and discovering new drugs all the time," she says. "Who knows what might be just around the corner? Obviously I pray they will find a cure.

"I know some people begrudge the amount of money that is spent on AIDS. They point to the fact that the much feared 'epidemic' hasn't happened.

"The reason it hasn't happened here is the enormous amount of education and prevention work which has gone on in this country. You only have to look abroad to see that in other parts of the world it is a very different story.

"There are plenty of us, ordinary men and women, whom you would walk straight past in the street, yet we are living in the shadow of this disease.

"We should serve as a reminder that the threat is real. It is still with us, and the work which is going on to prevent other families from suffering like mine, is worth every penny.

"I became HIV positive from a relationship with a man who had been a drug user. It was a short-lived relationship, and I'm on my own now. But it left me with a death sentence."

Anne is well aware of the controversy that is raging over the money which has been poured into HIV and AIDS research, prevention and treatment since the early 1980s, when the public was first warned of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

It was touted as the Great Plague of the late 20th century - a modern Black Death which would sweep across Britain and claim 40,000 lives every year.

But the Doomsday has never materialised in this country. The millions predicted to die are still alive and the HIV virus is no longer necessarily viewed as a death sentence.

Between 1982 and 1996, 8,201 people died of AIDS in this country - just half the number of women who die of breast cancer every year in Britain. Last year in the UK, deaths from AIDS fell by 44 per cent, from 802 in 1996 to 450 in 1998.

Surviving

People with HIV are now surviving much longer, and fewer people are being diagnosed with the virus. In the early 1980s there were, on average, more than 4,000 new cases a year in the UK. Last year the figure had fallen to 2,500.

Since the virus was first discovered by scientists in 1981, Britain has spent more than a billion pounds on its prevention and treatment. The Department of Health alone spends a total of pounds 275 million a year preventing, researching and treating AIDS .

Recently the Government announced it was injecting a further pounds 1.8 million - bringing next year's AIDS support grant for community care up to pounds 15.5 million.

Next Tuesday is once again World Aids Day, when charities, sufferers and celebrity supporters will be campaigning to ensure that the disease is kept in the spotlight. Celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, George Michael, and Dani Behr have al l donned red AIDS awareness ribbons to raise money for the cause.

International Development Secretary Clare Short says that we must not drop our guard.

Her call for contraceptives to be as easily available as Coco-Cola has sparked condemnation from churchmen - but she is unrepentant.

"In the past year 5.8 million more victims worldwide have been infected with HIV, and half of all the new cases are now young people aged 15 to 24," she says.

"We need condoms. It needs to become as easy to get hold of a condom in a poor country as Coca-Cola.

"If Coca-Cola can be everywhere throughout the poorest countries, then so can condoms. That's what we need to achieve."

"It is essential that people in the West do not form the mistaken belief that AIDS is on the way out. …

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AIDS: Charities Counting the Cost; Birmingham MP Clare Short Has Sparked Controversy with Her Call for Condoms to Be as Freely Available as Coca-Cola to Stem the Spread of HIV and AIDS - but the Amount of Cash Being Spent on the High-Profile Killer Is Causing Disquiet on the Charity Fron T. ALISON HANDLEY Reports
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