How Edinburgh became a Aids collateral of Europe

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BBC/Two Rivers

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Fiona Gilbertson with her boyfriend, Raymond, in a 1980s. They were both heroin users. Raymond after died of Aids

In a mid-1980s Edinburgh became famous as a Aids collateral of Europe. A new lethal disease, inexpensive heroin and a hardline attitudes of a authorities were a mixture for a open health disaster.

The illness had initial flush in a US where it became stigmatised as a happy “plague” given it was generally inspiring homosexual men.

But in Edinburgh it was a opposite organisation whose health was causing regard – a new era of intravenous drug users.

Heroin had strike Scotland’s collateral tough and quick in a early 1980s, with a series of addicts rocketing from a few dozen to thousands.

New inexpensive reserve of a drug from Afghanistan and Iran led to a vast boost in injecting drug use, generally on Edinburgh’s housing schemes such as Muirhouse and Pilton.

While Glasgow had some-more users, it was Edinburgh where a Aids widespread strike hardest.

And Dr Roy Robertson, a GP on a sprawling Muirhouse estate, was among a initial doctors to work out why.

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BBC/Two Rivers

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Dr Roy Robertson worked as a GP on Edinburgh’s Muirhouse estate during a 1980s and spent his days traffic with an sharpening heroin problem.

He finished a tie between addicts’ robe of pity needles and a city’s arching Aids crisis.

When a exam for a HIV pathogen was grown in late 1985 he went behind and tested blood samples that had been taken from drug users a integrate of years progressing when there was an conflict of hepatitis B.

Retrospectively contrast blood samples though accede is something that competence now be deliberate reprobate though during a time it led to a breakthrough.

His research, published in 1986, found 51% of a 164 heroin users tested were certain with a pathogen that caused Aids.

And these blood samples were dual or 3 years aged so in existence a problem could be many worse, with an estimated 85% being infected.

“That was an epidemic,” Dr Robertson tells a documentary Choose life: Edinburgh’s conflict opposite Aids. “In no other city in a UK was there an epidemic.”

Dr Robertson says: “We didn’t know how awful this was going to be. We didn’t know all these people would go on to rise Aids if they had no treatment.”

The GP pronounced there were hundreds of drug addicts on his estate given heroin was being sole on a streets for only £5 a packet. But once they had an addiction, it was costing £50 or some-more a day to feed their habit.

This led to a outrageous boost in crime and Lothian and Borders Police burst down hard.

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BBC/Two Rivers

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Heather Black lived in Muirhouse in a 1980s

Drugs solicitor Rowdy Yates says military activity in Edinburgh in a early 1980s was “ruthless”.

Former military arch Tom Wood admits they were perplexing to use normal law coercion efforts to tackle a amicable phenomena and they “could not wish to succeed”.

Their try to exterminate drugs by force valid to be counter-productive.

One of a impacts of a police’s fight on drugs was a crackdown on hypodermic needles used to inject drugs, forcing a city’s addicts to share.

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BBC/Two Rivers

Image caption

Fiona Gilbertson with her boyfriend, Raymond, in a 1980s

“I don’t consider we ever used a purify needle,” says Fiona Gilbertson, who lived on a Muirhouse estate and initial took heroin in a friend’s prosaic when she was 17.

“It was roughly companionable and we all used a same needle,” she says. “It was only normal to be regulating unwashed needles. It was normal to whet them on a matchbox.”

She says a same needle was used for months by a 10 or 20 people in a “shooting galleries” of a outline estate’s flats.

“At one indicate there was nowhere in Edinburgh we could get a purify needle,” says Ramsay Prior, a former addict and dealer.

He says people were hidden used needles from a infirmary.

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BBC/Two Rivers

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Dr Brettle spent 3 decades operative in Edinburgh to fight HIV infection

Health experts began job for giveaway purify needles and syringes to be supposing to a addicts to improved enclose a disease.

But Dr Ray Brettle, who had spin meddlesome in Aids while in a US, says he was met with “ambivalence” when he came behind to Edinburgh.

“People did not consider this was going to be a vast issue,” he says. “For dual years many people suspicion we was being a bit over a tip about a whole thing.”

Dr Brettle went on to spin conduct of a swelling diseases section during Edinburgh’s City Hospital.

When a risks of a pathogen were finally identified and understood, a vital regard became HIV swelling into a heterosexual race during vast by prostitution.

June Thomson tells a documentary about her crony Donna who got into harlotry to make income to feed her habit.

“These men, meaningful that HIV was starting to be such a vast thing, would compensate her additional to not use a condom,” she says. “And worse than that she would do it for a additional money.”

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BBC/Two Rivers

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Princess Diana was a really open believer of AIDS charities and in a late 1980s. She is seen in this sketch articulate to Derek OGG, QC, co-founder of Scottish Aids Monitor (SAM)

By Apr 1987, a UK government’s process had shifted and Edinburgh non-stop a initial needle exchange.

Despite a change in policy, a military still found it tough to accept that addicts could only spin adult to get purify needles.

“For a initial while there were uniform cops unresolved outward a needle sell saying who came. Maybe carrying warrants for detain of some people,” says Tom Wood.

Looking back, Dr Robertson, who has given spin highbrow of obsession medicine during a University of Edinburgh, says a “hostility” towards drug users and a miss of medical involvement combined conditions that were developed for a widespread of a virus.

Police officers now acknowledge they were repugnant towards Dr Robertson given he seemed to be advocating drug abuse.

“Policing is a supertanker,” says Mr Wood. “It takes a prolonged while to turn. The whole universe altered in 10 years and policing altered completely.”

  • The city in a eye of an HIV ‘perfect storm’
  • What can be finished to hindrance Glasgow’s HIV epidemic?

In 1987 a initial anti-retroviral drug was approved, providing short-term presence for those with Aids.

Further advances have led to some-more successful long-term treatments.

But now health authorities are traffic with a UK’s biggest HIV conflict in 30 years. This time in Glasgow.

Choose life: Edinburgh’s conflict opposite Aids is on BBC One Scotland during 21:00 on Thursday 5 December.