Waking up to safer sex

Norah Casey RGN, Editor

Issue 41 Volume 6

The furore over the Birmingham man who is alleged to have wilfully infect­ ed four women with HIV is reminiscent of the media’s irresponsi­ ble behaviour when the issue of AIDS and HIV first erupted in the UK. Clearly the ingrained prejudices and misconceptions that existed then have survived the mass public information campaigns. It is as though the sordid headlines and barely controlled hys­ terical news reporting have suddenly been unleashed again after lying dor­ mant in the grimy crevices of the tabloid news rooms. The press is now relishing the ‘scan­ dal’. The beleaguered man at the centre of the controversy has provided just the right ingredients to legitimise their moral outrage and emotive cov­ erage. Even the heavyweight press and more serious media programmes have sunk to tabloid-tactics in covering this sorry incident. The most astonishing aspect of the saga is that the media have only just woken up to an issue which has been a fact of life for many years. There are people who are HIV posi­ tive who, for one reason or another, choose not to reveal the fact to their partners, whether they are casual or long term. And they may continue to have unprotected sex despite being aware of the risks. This issue has posed complex ethical dilemmas for those

nurses involved in counselling and car­ ing for people with HIV. Indeed, on some occasions nurses find that they have both partners on their client list, one of whom is HIV positive unbeknown to the other. In those cir­ cumstances nurses have to safeguard one patient’s confidentiality even if it poses a major threat to another’s health. Yet it seems to have taken some time for the media and society to come to the realisation that the millions of pounds spent on HIV/AIDS awareness has been about issues such as this. It does seem little has been achieved over the past years. We still segregate people with HIV/AIDS into high-risk and low-risk categories as though, some­ how, people who aren’t homosexual, drug users or haemophiliacs are exempt from infection. In reality, however, there is no such thing as a ‘safe sexual rela­ tionship’. Asking the right questions of a casual or long-term partner is not the answer. Their sexual history needs to be related to their previous partners’ sexu­ al histories and so forth. Arguably, anybody who engages in unprotected sex is at risk of HIV infection. Whatever the truth behind the Birmingham case, perhaps it will jolt the heterosexual community into recognising HIV poses a real risk to all and protected sex is everyone’s responsibility.

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July 1/Volume 6/Numbcr 41 /1992 Nursing Standard 3

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Waking up to safer sex.

EDITORIAL Waking up to safer sex Norah Casey RGN, Editor Issue 41 Volume 6 The furore over the Birmingham man who is alleged to have wilfully infe...
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