EXPERTS who battled the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s have warned of a “massive” public health problem following the police crackdown on saunas..
Roy Kilpatrick, former Chief Executive of HIV Scotland, predicted an increase in HIV infections and other sexually-transmitted diseases.
And he accused police and council officials of “dishonesty, hypocrisy and lack of transparency” in their approach to the city’s saunas.
David Taylor, the former HIV and AIDS coordinator for Lothian Regional Council, HIV and AIDS coordinator in the late 1980’s, said licensing remained “crucial” as HIV continued to rise in Scotland.
Edinburgh Council voted on Monday to scrap the 30-year-old council regulation of the sex industry after Police Scotland decided to scrap the “blind eye” policy towards saunas.
AIDs experts who worked in the 1980s when Edinburgh accounted for 58% of all HIV/AIDS cases in Scotland, have spoken out against the removal decision.
Mr Kilpatrick, who now works with HIV patients, said: “Now there is a real concern that greater risks are going to be taken by woman, and indeed their clients, to ensure they’re able to make a living. It’s going to be a massive problem.”
The expert said he had already noticed a rise in the number of sex workers offering unprotected sex on the internet because customers “want to get their monies-worth”.
He added: “There is no doubt that these saunas served their purpose and increased the overall safety and indeed health of those involved through services that went into the saunas.
He added: “Edinburgh and indeed Scotland has been at the forefront of leading sexual health awareness but in just five minutes the council managed to take a massive retrograde step.”
Mr Kilpatrick concluded: “There is definitely a level of dishonesty, hypocrisy and a lack of transparency.”
The council put the plans to public consultation but initially told journalists the responses were not available. One members of the public was told to “Google it”.
But the responses have now been obtained and show almost universal opposition to the move.
David Taylor, who was the Lothian Region Council’s HIV/AIDs Coordinator between 1986 to 1995, said in his response that licensing should be maintained.
He wrote: “This is crucial at a time when HIV continues to rise in Scotland despite a general belief that it is no longer a problem.
“A recent survey by Waverley Care provides concerning information of the extent of the widespread ignorance, particularly in the young.”
He added: “Consequently without the paternal tolerance and support for the council, sex workers will be more subject to a legal framework and denied the support of health education in a safer environment.”
Consultation responses showed that more than 80% of respondents wanted to keep licensing in place.
Out of the 282 responses to the question “Do you support or oppose the proposal to change the licensing arrangements as described above?”, only 67 supported it.
The AIDS epidemic which gripped Scotland in the 1980’s caused mass hysteria and saw victims stigmatised. Edinburgh was dubbed the “AIDS capital of Europe”.
Councillor Gavin Barrie, Convener of the committee that made the decision said the council “will still take the safety and wellbeing of those working in saunas and massage premises extremely seriously”.
Asked why it was made so difficult to obtain consultation responses, a spokeswoman said details for for getting access were on their website.