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Philadelphia HIV Activist Paul Yabor Dies at 55

May 23, 2017

Paul Yabor, an HIV activist who spent much of his time helping injection drug users and advocating safe spaces for that community, passed away last week in Philadephia. He was 55.

The HIV/AIDS activist agency and services provider Philadelphia FIGHT announced his death on May 17:

"It is with great sadness that we announce that Paul Yabor, an AIDS Activist and member of the FIGHT Community, passed away today. Paul was known across the Philadelphia region as a tireless champion of the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, and was involved in many related causes. He was a long-time member of ACT UP Philadelphia, and had become a member of the Pennsylvania State HIV Prevention Planning Board. He gave much of his energy to the work of Prevention Point Philadelphia, in addition to volunteering with Philly AIDS Thrift, the FIGHT Community Advisory Board, and countless other organizations. He was an early member of the Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land, which led to the successful development of the Philadelphia Land Bank. His most recent activist goals were fighting for opiate overdose prevention methods, and for the establishment of safer consumption sites for active drug users. Paul was a formidable activist and his voice will surely be missed."

According to, Yabor died of an overdose. He was found in an area where injection drug users congregate and where Yabor himself had spent much time reaching out to them with services. Colleagues did not know that Yabor, who was in recovery, was using again.

In recent years, Yabor had pushed hard for the legalization of "safe injection sites" in Philadelphia, where drug users could inject under medical supervision to prevent transmission of HIV or hepatitis C and avoid overdoses and other adverse health effects. "He was a fierce advocate for the idea that drug users should have the right to use safely without contracting diseases," said Yabor’s longtime ACT UP Philly colleague Jose de Marco. He added that Yabor had also been pushing for statewide syringe exchange sites. Like many states, Pennsylvania has seen a surge of opioid injection drug use in recent years.

At the annual AIDSWatch advocacy and lobbying conference in Washington, D.C., in March, Yabor talked on camera to

Credit: Michael Faber, Apus Media

Yabor was diagnosed with HIV in 1990 while in prison. "They told me I had AIDS and that I needed to get my affairs in order," he told "I walked back to a dark cell and didn’t know what to do."

Yabor ended up plunging into every medical book in the prison and taking charge of his own health destiny. "I learned to get angry, but to do positive things with that anger," he recalled. "I continued to learn, advocate and get involved in activism."

Yabor said that at the top of his personal agenda was fighting HIV stigma. "We know today that people with HIV with an undetectable viral load can’t transmit the virus," he said at the AIDSWatch conference. "There’s still criminalization throughout our nation that impacts so many people, and it’s driven by fear."

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