The release of Russell T. Davies’ AIDS-themed drama It’s a Sin in the United Kingdom has prompted a review of government actions to address the epidemic at the time it swept the world. Enduring renewed criticism: former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who, her colleagues now claim, didn’t want to educate the public about the link between AIDS and sexual behavior.
The BBC now reports that Lord Fowler, who served as Secretary of State for Health and Social Services from 1981-1987–the height of the AIDS epidemic–says that Thatcher didn’t want to concern herself with the disease, and had severe reservations when it came to warning the public. Thatcher had objected to a packet mailed to British households warning about how HIV could be contracted through sex.
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“Her concern was – it’s always seemed to me a bit odd – that we were teaching people,” Lord Fowler said, “telling people things about which they didn’t know – the implication being that, once they knew it, then they would go out and experiment. Well, as this was exactly the opposite of our message, it did seem to me curious.”
Fowler also said that Thatcher initially used her clout as Prime Minister to block public discussion of the virus, and its association with the gay population. Fowler and his cohorts eventually went around Thatcher, opting to educate the public anyway. He also resisted calls to focus the nation’s anti-AIDS campaign on a “moral” stance that encouraged LGBTQ people to change their sexual orientations.
“You could always say we should have started earlier,” Lord Fowler remarked, “but I think we started at more or less the right time, because it was about the time when public concern was growing. We got it at that time and then we hammered it home.”
In the same interview, Fowler also referred to It’s a Sin as “extraordinarily moving.”
Both Margret Thatcher and the government of the United Kingdom continue to endure criticism for its handling of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s. The government took no broad action on the disease until 1987 when it launched its “AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance” campaign aimed at educating the public about the risks of the virus. That same year, Diana, Princess of Wales caused something of a royal scandal by opening an AIDS ward at a British hospital, and shaking the hand of a patient infected with HIV while not wearing gloves.