|Paul Michael Glaser|
Last night on Newstalk ZB we not surprisingly discussed the disturbing story of the four-year old boy in Whangerei told to stay at home from his childcare centre for being HIV-positive. While the centre has refuted some of the allegations against them (including saying he was never expelled and that his removal was to get a “care plan” in place), what is undeniable is that our attitudes to people with HIV and AIDS have somehow reverted back to how they were in the 1980s.
Why do we let our ignorance drive our fears and choose not to arm ourselves with facts? The family of this child have been suffering what sounds like a good old fashioned witch-hunt, with fliers breaching their privacy being sent out to the community and some parents allegedly even harassing the older siblings of the child regardless of the fact they aren’t even HIV-positive.
But what if they were? Does anyone in this community care that in the history of the world (a phrase I’m not adverse to using to when it suits) that there are no recorded cases of child-to-child infections of HIV at childcare centres? Fact. Though facts sometimes get in the way of a good moral panic and with permanent markers already drawn and placards waiting for ill-informed slogans to be written, this community in Whangerei has rightfully become a national embarrassment.
The one good part of the story is that it reminds the pessimistic that sometimes things in this world do get better. Rates of mother-to-child HIV infections are reducing around the globe and those fortunate enough to have access to the right HIV medications are no longer facing a death sentence. An unexpected result of this is that we have become complacent in the need to educate people on the realities of this disease.
I mentioned on my show how in broadcasting you have the unique opportunity to do things with either a positive or negative influence. On a station like Newstalk ZB, you have a pretty big megaphone and without being too earnest, and I try to remind myself of that. It would be easy to get disillusioned how some people in the industry, namely former mayors of medium-sized towns, forget just how privileged they are to have a voice and to use that only for destructive ends is un-empathetic, narrow-minded and to what benefit?
With that in mind, I reminded people of the work of Paul Holmes in the 90s in bringing the story of Eve van Grafhorst to the mainstream. A young Australian girl who ultimately succumbed to AIDS, Eve and her mother Gloria were virtually forced to abandon Australia, such was the prejudice against them. Relocating to New Zealand a quarter of a century ago, they found a public willing to replace their fears and ignorance with knowledge. As the country’s pre-eminent broadcaster, Holmes brought Eve’s courageous story to the public consciousness and changed attitudes to HIV and AIDS in New Zealand in the process.
In the years since though, I guess some of us forgot. Or maybe, some of us were born too late. So kudos to the Campbell Live team for breaking this story, kudos to Paul Holmes for educating anyone with a TV in the 90s and extra kudos to the original Starsky (from Starsky & Hutch) Paul Michael Glaser. Alongside his wife Elizabeth Glaser, the two of them were at the forefront in America in the 80s and 90s in raising HIV awareness and some have even gone so far as to say they did more than anyone in the States in leading the dramatic reduction of mother-to-child infection rates.
It’s a story I’ve told a few times on-air, but in case you haven’t heard it, click here to read my feature article about my time in LA in 2006 with Paul Michael Glaser as he discussed losing not only his wife to AIDS, but his daughter as well; amongst the most important interviews I’ve ever done.