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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
Viewpoints: Aids - 25 years on
By Michael Carter
NAM (National Aids Manual) patient information editor

Gay men
The gay community did not know how to react at first
On the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first reports of the first cases of Aids, doctors and campaigners explain how they first heard about the condition.

There was much confusion about the cause, and how best to minimise the risk.

DR JOSE CATALAN, NOW CONSULTANT PSYCHIATRIST AT LONDON'S CHELSEA AND WESTMINSTER HOSPITAL

Dr Catalan was working in Oxford as a clinician and university lecturer in the early 1980s and had also helped set up a telephone support line for other gay people.

"We started hearing reports from the USA about GRID (gay related immune disorder) - this would have been 1982 or 1983.

I had no idea of what was coming
Dr Jose Catalan

"What I remember is how simplistic we were in our thinking then.

"We were told that we should stop having sex with Americans or with people who had travelled to the USA!

"Also, how only a small percentage of those who were HIV positive would progress to AIDS.

"The whole question of using condoms was still a little controversial at first. At that early stage I had no idea of what was coming.

"Somehow it felt as if it was something happening somewhere else that would never reach us."

But he soon saw his first patient with Aids in Oxford.

"It was 1983. He was quite ill and in hospital, dying not long after.

"I remember him well, he was a gay man and a university don."

NICK PARTRIDGE, TERRENCE HIGGINS TRUST

In 1982, Mr Partridge was living in Amsterdam.

"I got to know a guy who worked at the central sexually transmitted diseases clinic.

"He told me about GRID, which was just being re-named Aids, and gave me a copy of the first leaflet from Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York.

"He both saved my life and put it on a completely new course."

After joining THT in 1985, Mr Partridge became chief executive in 1991.

KEITH ALCORN, SENIOR EDITOR AT NATIONAL AIDS MANUAL
"I can remember the exact spot when I first learnt of Aids.

"I was just turning off Portobello Road in west London in the summer of 1982 when I noticed a billboard for the Evening Standard that proclaimed `gay cancer`.

"I bought the paper, read the story and thought `that doesn't affect me` and forgot about it for a year.

"The next time I took any notice was when BBC2 broadcast `Killer in the Village` in May 1983.

"I was seeing an older man at the time - he was 25, I was 19 - and he seemed worried by it, so I thought I better pay attention to the subject."

CASPAR THOMSON, NATIONAL AIDS MANUAL DIRECTOR

"I was in the US in 1982.

"I had just turned 20 at the time and was nearing the end of my freshman year as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the US.

"Having overcome initial culture shock and homesickness, I was thriving on the freedoms of being well away from home.

"An English accent proved an allure in the depths of the South, where the drawl could extend words by seconds. Chapel Hill was also a magnate for Southern gay men, keen to seek out an oasis of liberalism at the heart of the Bible Belt.

"The combination opened up a whole new world to me and I was enjoying it to its full.

"I remember hearing about GRID but it was somewhere else, not in North Carolina. I don't remember being particularly alarmed or frightened because it wasn't where I was and it involved other people who were older, always seemed to have moustaches, and who must have been up to things I wasn't.

"Besides, genital herpes was the big thing in North Carolina - and people seemed, instead, to be panicking about that."

"Looking back my 'nimbyism' grates. All but one of my partners from that time died in the ensuing years."

National Aids Manual is a charity that provides independent information for people affected by HIV and professionals working to support them.


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