France has a rich history of revolution, in politics, art and culture. PrEP, the HIV prevention pill, has been available in the country for less than a year and activists, organizers and others seek to create another revolution around sexual health.
A PrEP summit billed as “ReLovution” convened in Paris on October 21 and 22. The gathering brought together over 120 participants from around various regions in France—Lyon, Rennes, Marseille, Bordeaux, Niort—and also included participants from the United States and the Caribbean.
The summit, coordinated by AIDES, VIH.org and ENiPSE—three French HIV-prevention organizations—brought together individuals from diverse backgrounds such as health advocates, public health experts, organizers, bar and sauna owners, researchers, actors and producers of porn, gay dating apps, and media. The meeting presented an opportunity to bring together all parts of the community to seize the opportunity around PrEP and work together to bring and end to the epidemic.
The two day summit began with a half day of level setting presentations around the state of the epidemic in France and diverse HIV prevention options: PrEP, Treatment as prevention, testing, condoms.
“We have the means to address the epidemic among gay men,” stated Aurélien Beaucamp, President AIDES, in his introductory preamble. “If we do not take care of our health nobody will do it for us.”
Virginia Supervie, an epidemiologist at INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, presented figures demonstrating how HIV disproportionately impacts gay men in France. It has a 17% prevalence among gay men; nearly half of new infections (42%) and 1 % of gays become HIV-positive every year.
“PrEP is not necessarily for everyone, but it must be accessible to everyone and everywhere for those in need,” asserted France Lert, an epidemiologist responsible for the report Towards Paris without AIDS.
The afternoon portion consisted of breakout sessions devoted to three key topics. The chem sex and barebacking session provided an opportunity to explore the most appropriate harm-reduction approach to prevention, while understanding the complex reasons one might find chem sex appealing (chem sex refers to the use of stimulants drugs like GHB, meth, and Mephedrone for the purposes of a prolonged sessions of “party” sex).
The session on ethnic minorities and the fight against homophobia and discrimination allowed for a discussion about the unique experience communities of color have in relation to health, sexuality and the epidemic. It was a reminder that diverse options for prevention require diverse strategies for reaching various communities.
The third breakout session focused on prevention 2.0 and gay dating apps. This session offered a chance to discuss how health advocates and dating apps, such as Hornet, could work together to provide gay men with valuable information and resources around HIV prevention and sexual health.
The final day of the summit let attendees learn more about approaches that worked for future strategizing. Pierre-Cedric Crouch from San Francisco AIDS Foundation detailed the ways they’ve been able to successfully engage men around PrEP and sexual Health in San Francisco, having a measurable impact on the epidemic. Hearing about these successes allowed for breakout discussions on ways to apply lessons learned to the current situation and plan for the future.
Many crucial barriers around access still persist, such as provider ignorance or resistance. Gay men continue to face stigma about choosing PrEP or speaking openly about sex without condoms. The summit organizers hope to convene other meetings in the future that can further explore the complex topics, as well as bring in even more parts of the community. This summit was seen as just the first step in mobilizing the community around the issue of PrEP. The energy and enthusiasm present at the event demonstrated that those in France are firmly committed to the fight for information, access, health and wellness, and the rights of the LGBT community.