Saturday, July 30, 2016
Elton at 2016 AIDS Conference
Although being gay in South Africa is legal, traditional attitudes still stigmatise gay people and discourage them from seeking treatment. Gay men are up to 20 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population and avoid health clinics where their sexuality may be discovered. The Health 4 Men programme not only provides safe spaces for gay men to seek treatment, but also changes attitudes through public awareness campaigns. Over 100 health facilities are already part of the programme across South Africa.
Elton was in Durban for the 2016 International AIDS Conference which is a biennial gathering of leading clinicians, researchers and activists committed to ending AIDS. Recollecting on the last time the conference was held in South Africa in 2000, Elton said;
“We have come a long way since then. I can remember going to a restaurant and LGBT people there would not even have their photograph taken with me as they were scared people would therefore know they were homosexual. Now we have Gay Pride being held here this weekend.
“But there is still work to do. We cannot take our foot off the accelerator. We must get rid of the stigma – the stigma against LGBT people, the drug users and sex workers. They are the ones at risk of being left behind. This is why my Foundation is focusing on them.”
Attending the conference, Elton announced the first wave of grants for LGBT people at risk of HIV provided by a joint fund with the United States Government. The ‘LGBT Fund’ enables all donations to the Elton John AIDS Foundation to be matched by the American government up to £3.8m.
On the second day of the International AIDS Conference in Durban, Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) Founder Sir Elton John addressed the delegates joined by Prince Harry. The Prince who founded the Lesotho charity Sentebale which cares for children with HIV, highlighted the high number of children and young people still without access to life-saving treatment;
“It is time for us to step up to make sure no young person feels any shame in asking for an HIV test. It is time for us to step up to make sure that girls and boys with HIV aren’t kept from playing with their friends, classmates, and neighbours.”
Prince Harry recognised the contribution from Elton and his mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales who held the hand of a dying man at a South African hospital 25 years ago. Whilst both Elton and Prince Harry acknowledged the progress which has been made since then, they warned of the rising number of young people becoming infected with HIV. AIDS remains the leading cause of death in Africa and the second worldwide for adolescents. Many were born with the virus before drugs preventing mother to child transmission became available. Without treatment, they will not only infect others as they become sexually active but also succumb to an AIDS related infection such as TB which can be deadly.
Later, Elton visited adolescents living with HIV at KwaZulu-Natal Children's Hospital where he emphasized the importance of helping young people overcome their disease and stigma by expanding their access to treatment and care.
The Elton John AIDS Foundation has created a special initiative called Young Survivors which targets young people with HIV. This will aim to reach 50,000 in the most affected cities in Africa and will provide outreach, testing and treatment for those infected with the virus.
at 8:38 PM