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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

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Taking HIV awareness all the way

As I tried not to stare at the couple sitting next to me on the metro the other day as they passionately made out and groped each other, I realized something: the French don’t do anything halfway.

Whether it’s the food, an array of full-fat, full-sugar, full-everything dishes that are exactly the way food is supposed to be; or the impossibly chic clothes for ages zero to 100, complete with high heels for all – it’s all calculated to be just perfect.
And, of course, being in love in France means the whole gamut of romantic gestures: flowers, chocolate, sunset picnics and plenty of hardcore PDA.

Because when you do something the French way, you’re doing it the “right” way.
So it should come as no surprise that the French version of raising awareness for protected sex to prevent HIV/AIDS is equally dramatic, equally grand and quintessentially French.

There’s no other place in the world where you could see a giant condom hanging in the atrium of a museum.

Early last week, in the science museum le Palais de la Decouverte, a 120-foot condom went on display. It’s a part of CondomFly, a world-traveling expedition to promote condom use in the prevention of HIV infections.

In addition to its staggering size and shock factor, it has another function: hot air balloon.

That’s the “fly” part of CondomFly. This year, the display will be changed into a hot air balloon and flown around the world, hitting stops on six continents.

Nearly 400 volunteer balloonists will help with the maintenance of the condom craft as it journeys, departing from Paris on Dec. 1, 2010.

The goal is to bring attention and help to those who need it in countries where HIV/AIDS is most prevalent. In addition, information stations will be set up at locations around the globe.

The issue of new HIV infections is one especially close to the heart of the French.
About 6,500 new cases of HIV were reported in France in 2008, according to Aides, a national HIV/AIDS awareness organization. Of those already infected, nearly a quarter are disabled or living in poverty.

Many, close to 40 percent, are immigrants to France, usually from North African countries where it’s easy to get a visa.

Promoting condom use to the French populace is especially important, as only 2 percent of new HIV cases in 2008 weren’t the result of sex.

The French aren’t shy about talking about sex or any related issues. As giant billboards in the metro scream for respect of reproductive rights, partial nudity is completely acceptable in advertising and condom vending machines can be found at most metro stations.

And clearly, based on my neighbors on the metro and the thousands of other couples making out across the city on a daily basis, they’re not shy about intimacy. But somewhere along the way, a disconnect happened. And in France, the only solution is something as grand and attention-grabbing as a giant condom hot air balloon.

Vive la France.

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