Wednesday, December 1st was the twelfth annual World AIDS Awareness Day, just in case you missed all of the red ribbons. Even here in Paris, we are not free from HIV. While gay men remain the largest at-risk population, with IV dug users close behind, heterosexual men and women are not free from risk.
Manifestation! To remind people that the battle to educate is not over, and moreover the battle to find better treatments and eventually a cure, Parisians did what they do best: marched in the streets. Starting from the Opera Bastille, many groups concerned with awareness, education, medical care and fair treatment filled the streets with their banners, chanting their messages, and hoped that the government and the general population take notice. With HIV in developing countries spreading beyond anyone’s worst nightmare, Western countries can’t afford to sit back and declare the issue passé.
Act-Up Paris To make sure of this, enter the Parisian chapter of the notorious militant group Act Up. For World AIDS Day in 1993, they covered the giant obelisk at Place de la Concorde with a huge plastic condom, and renamed it “Place des Morts du SIDA” (Place in memory of those who died from AIDS). This year their theme is “Guerre aux Labos” (War on the Labs), referring to the pharmaceutical companies that have not only made huge profits from selling HIV drugs, but also have prevented poorer countries from having access to these expensive drugs. Act Up’s anarchist style and unrelenting political pressure have not made them the most popular activist group in the country, but they’ve received quite a bit of good press for the election of a young, hetero woman who’s HIV-negative as their new president. Check out the News & Views Profile of Emmanuelle Cosse in ELLE.com.
Resources for YOU! Now you might be wondering what all of this has to do with Secrets of Paris, and most of all, what does it have to do with YOU, the reader. I’m a big believer that you can never be over-informed, and let’s face it, HIV UN-awareness is what causes all of the problems in the first place. So, whether you’re a long-time resident or just visiting for the week, you should be aware of the wonderful resources available to you and those who you care about.
A Good Place to Start FACTS is an HIV support and counseling group of volunteers for the English-speaking community of all nationalities. Just over ten years ago they opened the FACTS Line, and even today you can call to get info on everything from HIV testing to how to say “condom” in French (preservatives are not canned fruits). Most of all, they lend an ear if you just want to talk.
Another place to look is SIDA Info Service, another service in French, known for their 24-hour hotline.
AIDES Ile-de-France is a French organisation that publishes Remaides, a magazine that has an English translation available on this web site.
And here is some helpful vocab:
AIDS = SIDA
HIV = VIH
HIV-positive = séropositif
HIV-negative = séronégatif
STD = MST (maladie sexuellement transmissible)
condom = préservative
free anonymous testing = dépistage anonyme gratuit
November 2019 Update
Sadly, 20 years after first writing about World AIDS Awareness Day in Paris, educations and activism are still necessary, not just to stop new people from getting infected, but also to fight the discrimination against those who are seeking treatmeant. Act Up Paris is still active, and resources are available in Paris for those who need testing, treatment or support (the live links in the article are still working). Here’s to hoping we find better ways to eradicate AIDS and fairly treat those affected by HIV before another 20 years pass!
This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’m publishing them all here, one by one, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris”