Edinburgh AIDS documentary director slams new HIV ‘abomination’ in Glasgow

Edinburgh AIDS documentary director slams new HIV ‘abomination’ in Glasgow


 The director of a powerful film that recounts Edinburgh’s HIV crisis of the 1980s claims it is an “abomination” that Scotland faces the a similar crisis in Glasgow today  Stephen Bennett’s documentary explores how the capital’s “Trainspotting Generation” emerged, with shared heroin needles fuelling the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS  More than 30 years on, the same thing is happening in Glasgow, which has identified more than 130 new HIV cases since 2015  The award winning film-maker was inspired to make the film, Choose Life – Edinburgh’s Battle with Aids, to ward against history repeating itself and many more lives being lost  Among those who recount their own experience for the programme is Fiona Gilbertson, a recovering heroin addict who has been an influential drugs policy reformer through her work with the Recovering Justice organisation  Fiona was drawn into heroin injecting as a teenage punk and lost her boyfriend Raymond to drugs  Bennett said: “We did the film as a cry from the heart about what is plainly now happening in Glasgow  “It was announced around 2015 that HIV cases were rising again and here we are, three of four years later we are still talking about it  “Over three decades the HIV problem has travelled across the M8 to Glasgow.”  The BBC programme, to air on Thursday, in the week of World Aids Day, examines the years between 1979 and 1989 It features doctors, heroin addicts, police and locals as the enormity of the infection crisis, imported from the USA, began to take shape  Bennett, who won a BAFTA award for his documentary on the Dunblane atrocity in 2016, said: “I recall images in the media at the time, featuring tombstones and icebergs, as the reality of the HIV and AIDS epidemic dawned It was a 1980s Project Fear that unfolded.  “We wanted to tell about the massive dread in the eighties We also considered filming the Glasgow Street Team in 2019 to see the incredible work they do and the sights they see  “That was the driver – to tell the old story of Edinburgh and draw on how it relates to what is happening in Glasgow today  “In my opinion it is not just sad, it is an abomination that things have got so bad ”  Bennett’s film features footage with Dr Ray Brettle, a consultant in infectious diseases in Edinburgh at the height of the AIDS epidemic  Brettle – known to addicts affected by AIDS as “Dr Death” – tells how drug addicts were scouring hospital bins for needles – clean or dirty – because it was so impossible for them to obtain clean ones via the NHS or social services  That led to HIV infections spreading like wildfire and the signs are now that shared needles, mostly driven by the rise in cocaine injecting, are leading to more cases of HIV in Glasgow  In August this year, senior Scottish doctors wrote to right wing Home Secretary Priti Patel to highlight how more than 130 new HIV cases have been identified in Glasgow since 2015, with the majority having a history of injecting drugs in public spaces  That number is understood to be still significantly rising.  Bennett said: “Some homeless people don’t quite understand that HIV is on the rise They do know that sharing needles is not a good thing but if they are rattling and they don’t have clean needles then it’s probably going to happen anyway ”  Other key players in the HIV response in the eighties who appear in the documentary are Muirhouse GP, Professor Roy Robertson, and Derek Ogg QC, the co-founder of Scottish AIDS Monitor, who did important work in raising awareness of AIDS within the gay community, which faced huge stigma at the time  • Choose Life – Edinburgh’s Battle Against AID airs on Thursday, Dec 5 on BBC1 at 9pm

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