“The example of the fight against AIDS should be taught in the classroom”

Forty years ago, on January 20, 1983, a team of French researchers from the Institut Pasteur – including Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine – managed to isolate the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a disease that weakens the immune system and makes the body vulnerable to multiple opportunistic infections (toxoplasmosis, pneumocystosis, cryptococcosis, etc.).

Journalist, writer, figure of gay activism and pioneer in the fight against AIDS in France, Didier Lestrade notably co-founded Act Up-Paris in 1989. HIV-positive for thirty-six years, he is also one of the last guardians of the memory of this fight, still unfinished.

On the occasion of the forty years of the discovery of HIV, he looks back on the darkest years of the epidemic and regrets the lack of interest it arouses today among part of society. It also calls for the rapid creation of an archive center, which would contribute to transmitting and making known the feats of arms of activists engaged in the fight against AIDS.

In 1986, at age 28, you learned that you were HIV-positive. You are now 64. How are you? In France, how do you age with HIV?

I’m fine, I’ve been living in the countryside for twenty years and I’m in a perspective of degrowth and ecology. I am one of the lucky ones who have never developed opportunistic diseases [qui se développent en raison d’un système immunitaire déprimé]. Of course, the effects of antiretrovirals have been severe when it comes to lipoatrophy [perte de graisse] of the face. But I benefit from fillers, which are free in the hospital, an advance that we obtained in the early 2000s.

Read also: “Transmission”, on Arte Radio: with Didier Lestrade, the story of Act Up can also be heard

My only problem is my teeth. I only have five left and I’ve been warning about this for years. I don’t have the money to pay the costs, which exceed 20,000 euros. These dental problems are a direct effect of the loss of bone mass in the jaw, caused by antiretrovirals. This support should be provided by the State. [L’association] Sidaction does not seem concerned by the problem, and this amplifies the distress of people who are in the same situation as me. There should be a fund to help us. There is only one association that works on the old age of HIV-positive people, it is Gray Pride and I congratulate them.

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