By Gordon Stewart

Daily Mail (London) 5 April 1993

The announcement by Kenny Everett yesterday that he has the HIV virus is a tragedy. The disk jockey and comedian adds another distinguished name to the long litany of all those, whether obscure or famous, whose lives have been blighted by the 20th century's most sinister incurable disease.

But it would be a double tragedy if the list of those who have already been elevated to martyrdom - Rudolf Nureyev, Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Denholm Elliot - prevented a cold, hard look being taken at how much we are spending on AIDS in this country.

In the past decade £700million has been spent on AIDS research in Britain alone. Much of it, in my view has been mispent on misleading propaganda and on misdirected research. For the harsh truth is that mercifully the disease is still comparatively rare.

It is quite possible to chart how the national hysteria gathered momentum and the AIDS myths grew. In 1982 we were assailed by threats of a full-scale epidemic in this country within a decade.

By 1988 the Government had convened a committee which was predicting that, by 1992, there would be up to 40,000 cases in Britain - although it was admitted there were wide margins even to this prediction.

The 'epidemic' has evaporated

So what has happened? It appears to have evaporated into thin air. Having read the Government's prediction ten years ago, I made my own estimate of about 6,500 cases in total from 1982 to 1992. This is very close to the real total of about 7,000 cases to date.

To understand how the myths evolved we must look across the Atlantic. It first appeared in the United States among male homosexuals with multiple partners, and drug addicts, particularly those exchanging needles.

Later it was noted that haemophiliacs who had received the blood-clotting agent Factor 8 were also vulnerable. The Factor 8 had, it emerged, been prepared from infected blood.

There were, then, quite legitimate fears that AIDS would spread to the heterosexual community through drug abuse and via bisexual men.

These fears have simply not been realised. The alarm was based on the misapprehension that AIDS was infectious. People thought that, as with other sexually-transmitted diseases, its spread through the heterosexual population would be invitable.

Any sex was the order of the day

But the facts have refuted this. For too long, AIDS research and treatment have been based on a hypothesis which for years, I have tried to quash.

The truth is that AIDS itself is not a simple infectious disease, but a complex mixture of which the HIV virus is one part. It is this virus that can be passed from person to person through blood contact.

Many people believe that te cause of AIDS is soley HIV. But, it is not. One of the causes of AIDS is HIV. but the onset of AIDS is hugely encouraged by high risk behaviour - by which I mean promiscuous homosexual behaviour or aberrarit sex or drug taking - among people with HIV.

If they avoided this behaviour, HIV patients would not invariably get AIDS and they would certainly live for much longer.

In the Seventies, in my work with drug abusers, I witnessed the background against which AIDS developed in America. At the time tha gay lib movement was gaining momentum. Promiscuous sex, sex by any route was the order of the day.

The scene was set for something terrible to happen. It did. It was called AIDS. And the sexual conditions were ripe for its transmission.

In 1980 there were six cases in America and two years later the first cases were diagnosed in Britain. By 1984 the highly destructive HIV virus had been identified and the assumption was made that AIDS was caused by the virus alone and would, therefore, be spread by promiscuity. If true, AIDS would have spread through the heterosexual population like wildfire. It has not.

Health authority propaganda at virtually every level has promulgated the mischievous misconception tht HIV inevitably leads to full-blown AIDS and to death.

Thanks to this misconception, the vast AIDS engine has continued to run, fuelled by hugh cash resources. Billions have been spent - on finding a drug or vaccine.

The medical establishment prescribed the anti-viral drug AZT in the mistaken belief that it would delay the onset of AIDS. Now the results of tests begun in 1988, and published last week, show that AZT has no effect in preventing AIDS, although I concede that it might have been a powerful panacea in certain cases.

So the false hypothesis has been: If we control HIV we control AIDS. And that has been the message - largely unheeded I must add - behind the safe sex campaign.

I recognise that HIV does play some part in AIDS. It certainly may help the body to reject its defensive cells, thereby aggravating the reaction in which the body starts to destroy its own immunity.

Glamorised by pressure groups

But promiscous homosexual intercourse per se can lead to a similar state. That is why people who indulge in it are highly disposed to the disease.

My theories are more direct and less politically correct than those disseminated by the health authorities. I do not believe that condoms are the answer.

My message is simpler and more fundamental: that homosexual sex with frequent partners and irresponsible sexual behaviour are the primary routes to AIDS - homosexuals who remain faithful to their partners are at no greater risk than heterosexuals who do the same - and that drugs are a secondary route.

Running alongside this plethora of misinformation and myth about AIDS, there has also been the disturbing glamorising of the disease. AIDS has been hijacked by activists and pressure groups.

Every time an avowedly homosexual or bisexual rock or film star dies of the disease he is elevated to martyr and hero.

Yet it is an unpalatable and unpopular fact, seldom articulated, that those who die of AIDS have, like the smokers who die of AIDS have, like the smokers who die of lung cancer or hearth disease, falicitated their own death. In spite of this, governments, charities, drug companies and research agencies continue to plough millions into the AIDS machine.

Funds for AIDS research should be allocated in direct proportion to its frequency or infrequency. No more and no less.

Spending levels are absurd

It is preposterous that we spend ten times more on this disease than we do on cancer when there are only 7,000 cases of it in this country. Absurd, too, that while other diseases compete for a share of health budgets, the funds for AIDS are allocated specifically and only for AIDS.

So we have a ludicrous scenario: 70 per cent of AIDS cases in Britain are in London. There is none, or hardly any, in Northern Ireland, parts of Wales, the Western Isles of Scotland, Orkneys and Shetlands and some areas of rural England, yet all these areas have their allotted AIDS budgets to be used for nothing else.

Like cancer and heart disease, AIDS should be judged and funded by the number of bed days and amount of medical and nursing care required to treat those suffering from it.

Of course, we must have compassion for the victims, but we should not afford them such unjustified priority.

We should take the sentimentality out of AIDS and recognise that the disease is, with few exceptional cases, directly caused by the behaviour of the victim. If we do that, it would be better for all concerned.*