Eric Fleutelot, Sidaction. Images ©IAS/Marcus Rose/Worker's Photos (left) and Caspar Thomson (aidsmap.com)
A long-serving figure in one
of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies involved in HIV drug
development remarked, in a conversation, on the role played by people living
with HIV, community & advocacy groups and individual activists in shaping
the global response to HIV.
While a long way from a
phenomenon the pharmaceutical industry would have chosen to happen, he
nevertheless conceded that it had been a good thing.
There are quite a number of
prominent HIV activists here in Rome
listening carefully to the ground-breaking data on preventing HIV that are
being presented. Beyond the optimism and excitement, particularly surrounding
TasP (treatment as prevention), they have voiced words of caution and advice.
Eric Fleutelot is one. Eric
is deputy CEO for Sidaction.
Based in Paris,
Sidaction provides local organisations in developing countries with long-term
financial and technical support to help them implement treatment, assistance,
and prevention programmes.
Back in 1995, Eric attended
a conference for people living with HIV in South Africa. He saw, then, that
despite the obvious differences between the epidemic in the global north and south,
“we had not only a virus in common, but also a destiny.” This sparked his
interest and involvement in the global epidemic.
The following year Eric was
offered the job at Sidaction while attending the Vancouver AIDS Conference. Vancouver was probably
the most important breakthrough conference in the history of HIV, as it was
there that the life-saving benefits of combination therapy were reported.
He recalls: “I remember
being in front of the TV with my partner Alain and being so happy. Wow! We are
going to live longer than we thought! I wanted to share the hope and joy that I
felt with friends and colleagues in Africa.”
Access to treatment
But then, of course, access
to treatment became a barrier to these friends and colleagues sharing in that
hope and joy. In his work with Sidaction, Eric has worked hard to change that,
through supporting and working on ARV programmes in developing countries.
“From what I have seen,
treatment programmes in resource-limited countries are a success when there is
huge involvement from communities. This is certainly true for medical care but
also for access to testing.”
A prevention revolution
Tuesday, Eric spoke very eloquently and passionately at a conference session
about the critical importance of involving people living with HIV at the heart
of any strategy for TasP and, in particular, about the importance of respecting
people’s human rights.
Acknowledging that what we
have seen here in Rome amounts to a potential revolution in prevention, he
asked whether it would be like “the French revolution, in which a new elite of
experts and public health people become more powerful, or will it be a
democratic revolution in which people with HIV are freed from the fear of
passing the virus to their partners?” (You can download the slides from his
the conference website.)
A wonderful opportunity
The morning after his
presentation he told me “Now there is a wonderful opportunity to change the way
people living with HIV and AIDS are perceived by society both in the north and
the south. If we consider we are not infectious, it could help reduce stigma.
The transition of HIV into a chronic condition could be a wonderful opportunity
for our lives. But for that, our rights have to be protected and promoted. There
is a risk, in implementing treatment as prevention, of enforcement. We have to
respect people’s autonomy, especially the right to determine when and how to
“This is a very exciting
conference but we cannot afford to implement what we know. We need to fight to
get more money into HIV/AIDS.”
For all our reporting from
the conference, visit our IAS 2011 pages at www.aidsmap.com/ias2011
Want more information on treatment
as prevention? There’s a whole section in our newly launched resource, Preventing HIV: www.aidsmap.com/HIV-treatment-as-prevention/page/1270646/
Feeling inspired to get
involved as an activist? If you’re not sure where to start, try contacting an
organisation local to you – there are thousands listed in our online e-atlas (www.aidsmap.com/e-atlas).