The Discovery of AIDS in Zambia

Show Navigation

By | From the Collections

“God created AIDS to punish sinners” and similar negative phrases often spring to mind when thinking of the Church and AIDS. However, this is a view taken by a minority of Christians. Many more have been involved in the fight against AIDS, and numerous Church groups provide support to victims of the disease.

Love your neighbour especially those with AIDS. Wellcome Images, L0054445

Love your neighbour especially those with AIDS, poster from India, 1997. Wellcome Images no. L0054445

In the mid-twentieth century, a young woman named Anne Bayley found that her sex prevented her from taking her chosen path and becoming ordained in the Church of England. Instead she embarked on her second choice career – medicine. It is often said that God works in mysterious ways, but in this case, considering the contribution that Anne Bayley has made to AIDS research in Africa, perhaps it wasn’t such a mystery after all.

After stints working in various hospitals around the UK, Dr Bayley took up a post at Korle Bu Hospital in Accra, Ghana in 1968. Four years later she moved to the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, where she would spend the rest of her medical career.

In Lusaka, one of Dr Bayley’s duties involved running a tumour clinic which specialised in a type of cancer called Kaposi’s Sarcoma, which was fairly common amongst older East African men. In the early 1980s, there were two developments involving this disease. Firstly, medical papers began to be published about a mystery new disease amongst American and European homosexuals which involved an aggressive form of Kaposi’s Sarcoma. Secondly, Dr Bayley, and other African colleagues working with KS patients started to see a different form of the disease. This they called Atypical African Kaposi’s Sarcoma.

One of these colleagues was Dr David Serwadda of the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, who saw a few cases of Atypical African Kaposi’s Sarcoma amongst patients suffering from ‘Slim’. This was a new disease, called Slim because the major symptoms involved dramatic weight loss and diarrhoea.

Despite the common appearance of an unusually aggressive form of Kaposi’s Sarcoma in all three diseases, there was very little suspicion that they could be the same. That is until samples sent for testing by Drs Bayley and Serwadda came back as positive for the virus then known as HTLV-III.

Glass Sculpture of HIV virus by Luke Jerram. Wellcome Images, C0022441.

Glass Sculpture of HIV virus by Luke Jerram. Image credit: Luke Jerram and Wellcome Images no. C0022441.

Dr Bayley then began to interview patients with suspected HTLV-III. Although the disease had been frequently associated with homosexuality, she found that this was not the case amongst her patients. She also began to plot cases on a graph, and soon realised that the world was on the verge of an epidemic.

Papers relating to Anne Bayley’s life and career were donated to the Wellcome Library between 2005 and 2007, and are now available to researchers for the first time. The archive ( PP/BAY) cover her early work in Ghana, particularly on hepatitis, as well as her more famous work on Kaposi’s Sarcoma and AIDS. It includes publications, correspondence, and photographs, as well as patient data.

The archive provides an important record of the early days of AIDS research, as well as demonstrating the importance of international collaborations in tackling an emerging epidemic. It also shows the challenges and opportunities faced by those on the front lines when a new disease is discovered.

In the mid-1980s, it rapidly became clear that the limited resources of Lusaka and other hospitals could not provide all the care needed by patients with HTLV-III (now called HIV) and AIDS. Anne Bayley became involved in a number of community initiatives to provide patient care, such as the Family Health Trust, and The AIDS Support Organization (TASO).

The difficulty in spotting who carries the HIV virus. Wellcome Images, L0055030.

The difficulty in spotting who carries the HIV virus, poster from UNICEF, Uganda, 1995.. Wellcome Images no. L0055030.

Many Christian groups have been involved in the care of people with HIV and AIDS from the beginning, something which is reflected in this collection. Organisations such as the International Christian AIDS Network (ICAN), London Ecumenical AIDS Trust, and the Chikankata Salvation Army Hospital have worked with health care providers, patients, and the general public to reduce the stigma faced by people with HIV and AIDS, and to ensure that they receive the best possible care. As both a doctor and a Christian, it should be no surprise that Anne Bayley has played a prominent role in many of these initiatives.

In 1990 Anne Bayley retired from medicine and returned to England to begin theological training. She was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1994, and although officially retired, the Rev. Dr Bayley continues to be involved in providing information and pastoral care to people with HIV and AIDS.

Author: Natalie Walters is an archivist at the Wellcome Library.

Natalie Walters

Natalie Walters is Archives Project Manager at the Wellcome Library. She specialises in the management and curation of born-digital records, and has a worrying knowledge of the history of poisoning.

See more posts by this author

Comments are closed.

Related Blog Posts