AIDS in the UK: The Making of Policy, 1981-1994 by Virginia Berridge (Reader in History, Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene Tropical Medicine, Reader in History, Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene Tropical Medicine, University of London)
Fifteen years ago the AIDS `epidemic' did not exist on the public agenda. In just over a decade the public and official response to the disease has resulted in the development of a whole network of organizations devoted to the study, containment, and practical treatment of AIDS. In this important and original analysis of AIDS policy, Virginia Berridge examines the speed and nature of the official (and unofficial) response to this new and critical historical event. The policy reaction in Britain passed through three stages. From 1981-1986 the outbreak of a new contagious disease led to public alarm and social stigmatization, with a lack of scientific certainty about the nature of the disorder. AIDS was a new and open policy area - there were no established departmental, local, or health authority mechanisms for dealing with the problem. This was a period of policy development from below, with relatively little official action and many voluntary initiatives behind the scenes. This phase was succeeded in 1986-1987 by a brief stage of quasi-wartime emergency, in which national politicians and senior civil servants intervened, and a high-level political response emerged. The response was a liberal one of `safe sex' and harm minimization rather than draconian notification or isolation of carriers. The author demonstrates that despite the `Thatcher revolution'in government in the 1980s, crisis could still stimulate a consensual response. The current period of `normalization' of the disease sees panic levels subsiding as the rate of growth slows and the fear of the unknown recedes. Official institutions have been established and formal procedures adopted and reviewed; paid professionals have replaced the earlier volunteers. The 1990s have seen change in the liberal consensus towards a harsher response and the partial repoliticization of AIDS. In this fascinating and scholarly account, Virginia Berridge analyses a remarkable period in contemporary British history, and exposes the reaction of the British political and medical elites, and of the British public to one of the most challenging issues of this century.