MLA’s honesty about his past HIV ignorance will boost public awareness

Morning View
Morning View

The DUP MLA Trevor Clarke has come under fire for his past ignorance over HIV.

The megastar singer Elton John compounded Mr Clarke’s embarrassment yesterday by mocking the South Antrim MLA for previously having been unaware that HIV affects heterosexual people.

That Mr Clarke had not known that fact about Aids, which has killed millions of people who contracted it through heterosexual contact, will strike many people as surprising.

But he is absolutely right to come back in response against those who had ridiculed him.

Mr Clarke was not only honest about his previous ignorance, but admirably so. Almost every living person will find an occasion, well into their adulthood, when they discover something or other that they were unaware of but that seemingly everyone else knew long ago.

We all have huge gaps in our knowledge, and sometimes only discover it suddenly. It is a natural instinct in those circumstances to disguise such ignorance, if possible.

Mr Clarke was candid about his gap, and was so in a bid to help remove stigma about HIV. He told this newspaper: “I’m being attacked for being honest. It’s missing the point of what a large part of the debate was about – raising awareness and breaking down stigma.”

That is precisely what needs to be done with HIV, many decades after it became one of the biggest global health problems of the modern era.

This week in the Assembly there was cross-party discussion of HIV and agreement that it is an ongoing problem. This tenor of debate is welcome.

Trevor Clarke’s contribution from the Assembly chamber was actually one of the most important and, if the National Aids Trust is correct in saying that almost two in five people have the misapprehension that he once had, then his honesty, and Elton John’s almost cruel role in highlighting it, will have reduced that number.