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Arab and African families were hit hard by the AIDS epidemic in France. They were amongst the first to be diagnosed in the early 1980s. The conjunction of poverty and racism then resulted in thousands of infections that were preventable and deaths that – once combination therapy became available in mid-1990s – were avoidable. It is estimated that men, women, and children of Arab and African origin account for half of the 35,000 AIDS deaths during the first two decades of the epidemic in France.
Survivre au sida (Surviving AIDS) is a weekly radio programme and web site created by Reda Sadki in 1995. The show is now produced by the Comité des familles, the organization he founded in 2003 to mobilize families of all backgrounds facing HIV. But Reda stayed at the helm until 2010, when he hired a young journalist he had trained to continue his work.
Although broadcast from a small, community-access radio station in Paris, in 2005 over 150,000 unique visitors each month came to the radio show’s web site. Half of them are from France and other European countries. The other half are from countries in West Africa where French is spoken. There are also listeners in Haiti and Canada.
“It’s not a radio show about AIDS. It’s about speaking to the needs of people living with HIV,” explains Reda. It’s about living with the virus, loving with the virus, and having healthy children despite the virus. “In 1995, when I started, the virus was still equated with a death sentence. Yet, a clinical trial had already demonstrated that antiretrovirals could prevent mother-to-child transmission. And the power of ‘harm reduction’ to reduce infections amongst injectors had just been recognized.”
Today, the radio show celebrates the progress of medicine and its impact on the lives of families facing HIV. To love and to be loved. To have children and grand-children, knowing that (with a supportive doctor and good insurance) you will see them grow up as you grow old.
This report by Michel Arseneault for Radio France International (RFI), first broadcast on 11 December 2006, is the only time an English-language journalist documented this singular story of how families facing HIV, poverty, and disease responded to a radio show’s call for empowerment by speaking for themselves, in their own names, and for their own needs.
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