Monday, April 26, 2004

Occasionally something in Britain really surprises me. For instance, in the neighbourhood where I live I've recently seen a series of NHS posters advising people to get HIV tests. All of these have photos of people on them, smiling, saying that it's the right thing to do. No problem with that, you might say, except for the fact that all the posters, without exception, feature black people. Underneath, in smaller letters, you're advised to phone the "African Aids Helpline."

Now, I can sort of understand how this happened. Its quite possible that, statistically, most people in Britain who are HIV positive are from African countries and are black. Presumably, therefore, it was decided that there was a need to target this sector of the population. Nevertheless, it seems to me that most people who see these psoters are likely to draw the conclusion that AIDS is unlikely to affect whites, and that people from Africa are likely to be diseased. The first message is unwise from a public health point of view, and the second is simply irresponsible given Britain's current panic about asylum seekers (and the fact that many refugees are, legitimately, entering Britain from countries such as Zimbabwe).

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