1991 - Edinburgh's Aids Epidemic, the view of a local creche worker
Aids affects creche workers in Lothian Region today: it will affect all of us in the very near future.
Although the number of children directly infected with the HIV virus is tiny the number affected by Aids is greater. For a small child it might mean seeing her mother's health get progressively worse, not understanding why the medication does not appear to be working and, finally, adjusting to a new way of life within an adoptive household.
According to Dr Jacqueline Mok, consultant paediatrician at the Edinburgh City Hospital, who gave a talk at the Edinburgh Science Festival in April this year, the Aids epidemic has three waves. Firstly infection, the people diagnosed as being HIV positive. Secondly, people directly affected by Aids because someone close to them has the virus or because their work entails giving medical, social or psychological support to people who are HIV positive. And the third wave of the epidemic is the social backlash of ignorance and prejudice.
How would you feel about giving birth to your child in an isolated room of the maternity unit, having to use a separate toilet with a 'Keep Out' notice and none of the hospital workers bothering to speak to you? Sadly this has been the experience of a number of Scottish women and their isolation and humiliation has been wholly unnecessary.
The HIV virus has no stamina outside the human body. It cannot survive in air or water. It is only transmitted through the use of infected needles, transfusions of infected blood or through penetrative sex.
If hospital staff were seriously scared of the killer germ running rampant through the wards and bringing down the entire hospital wouldn't it make sense to organise home births?
A lot of the moral majority turn their back on adults who are HIV positive, seeing them as sinners who are being justly punished. No doubt they will sentimentalise the children as innocent victims. Not only is this attitude destructive to the children and their families it is also morally indefensible. Nobody deserves to die of a killer disease. Nobody in their right mind says that cigarette smokers deserve to die of cancer although they cause a cancer risk to everyone when they spread their fumes in public areas. The fear and hatred of people with Aids is the moral majority's fear of lesbians and gay men, its fear of intravenous drug misuse in a culture where the government makes millions or pounds profit from alcohol and tobacco duty, and its fear of sex.
As a volunteer creche worker in an inner city area I have to ask myself 'What do I need to know about Aids?' First and foremost there is no need whatsoever to know if any of the children in the creche or anyone related to them has the virus. What is important is to understand and practice normal health and safety standards; to use rubber gloves when changing nappies, to clean the play area every day after the children have left, to wash all the toys, cushion covers and dressing up clothes regularly, to throw out any broken toys and to record any accident or injury in the incident book. This is standard practice for maintaining a clean and safe play environment.
Some creche workers have put forward the argument that we should assume that everyone who is part of the creche is HIV positive including all the workers and visitors. This practice maintains safety and is non-discriminatory. However, in my view it is difficult to hold this attitude consistently and it is needlessly depressing.
All children have the same basic needs, the need for adequate food and shelter, the need for love, affection and companionship, the need for security and a sense of belonging; the need for positive play experiences and for an environment where we are able to grow as people and where we can develop our confidence and sense of self-worth. All adults have these needs too.
Good bye dear reader. Good luck and stay healthy.