An epidemic of erasure 2

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After posting An epidemic of erasure, I remembered one of the stories I'd wanted to talk about that it didn't mention at all, despite the way that it features Channel 4 too.

Its weekday nightly news programme, Channel 4 News, is one of the UK's flagship news programmes. Along with BBC 2's Newsnight, it tends to ignore the 'popular' stories the others do, concentrating on in depth analysis of 'serious' ones. So for one royal wedding,* the Six O'Clock News on BBC 1 didn't mention any other story until it was about 27 minutes into its 30 minutes length. The same night's Channel 4 News gave the wedding about half a minute, roughly 27 minutes into its 55 minutes.

You also need to remember that back in the early days of Aids, there was no real treatment. If you had Aids, some of your symptoms could be treated: one of the reasons Aids was discovered was the increase in requests for the drug Pentamidine to the US Centre for Disease Control. Normally used in the treatment of patients whose immune systems had deliberately been suppressed, for example as part of receiving a transplant, it was being used to help treat the form of pneumonia that Aids patients fell victim to.

Apart from that, nothing.

Hence the sketch from the First Aids programme in 1987:

Doctor (Stephen Fry): I'm afraid you've got Aids and you're going to die.

Patient (Hugh Laurie): Oh no. (pause) Go on.

Dr: That's it.

P: That's it?

Dr: Yeah.

(There's more but be warned that the programme assumes its young viewers are straight and at much risk as men who have sex with men.)

So the discovery that the previously believed to be useless drug AZT** might help was huge news to people with Aids. Getting it was seen by many as literally a matter of life or death.

That stark reality is dramatised in Angels in America where one of the characters, the villain in real life Roy Cohn, is prepared to deny other people the drug during initial trial to get it himself.***

What Epidemic didn't mention is that in the UK, Channel 4 News had a campaign to get the former girlfriend of a bisexual man treated with AZT.

Not him, just her.

He was also ill with HIV and it was assumed he'd infected her. He probably unknowingly did, but that doesn't justify the 'let him die' prejudice seen here.

This is what biphobia looks like.

I can't remember what happened. I can't find any of the relevant clips from the programme.

I expect that both he and she died in the 80s. As it was then the only available anti-HIV treatment, the approval of AZT was rushed through based on that initial badly flawed US trial. Before long it would be proved by the European Concorde trial that AZT alone did not extend life for most HIV+ people. (That took combination therapy, a cocktail of multiple drugs including the then new protease inhibitors, which was confirmed in 1996 to be highly effective and is still used today.)

But I've never forgotten seeing, week after week, one of UK television's major news programmes prepared to campaign to get only one of a couple treated with AZT, leaving the bisexual man to die.

* Andrew and Fergie's in 1986, I think. That went on to prove which of the two programmes got it right.

** Now more commonly known as Zidovudine, it was developed in the 1960s when it was known that many cancers in birds were caused by retroviruses – ones which, like HIV, are based around RNA rather than DNA. But it didn't work in mice who can also get cancer from a retrovirus. So it was shelved until the discovery that the retrovirus HIV was the cause of Aids.

*** In case you don't think that's evil enough, he was also one of Donald Trump's first lawyers.

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