The Elton John AIDS Foundation, its founder Sir Elton John and Chairman David Furnish attended a series of sessions, site visits and private meetings during the course of the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, which ended on Friday.
Their goal was to raise awareness of the continued need for funding and action in the fight against AIDS, to champion those most at risk of being left behind in the global response and to launch new initiatives that will provide HIV testing and treatment to thousands on the African continent.
One such initiative is a new $10m LGBT Fund, in partnership with the Office of the Global Aids Coordinator and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), to support LGBT communities in multiple African countries. Two organizations, The International HIV/AIDS Alliance (Alliance) and the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) were announced at the conference as the inaugural recipients of the LGBT fund. Sir Elton John also joined Prince Harry for a special session focused on the needs of HIV-youth in Africa.
Alliance, an organization that supports community groups in countries that are most affected by the global AIDS crisis and MSMGF, a non-profit that advocates for equitable access to HIV prevention, care, treatment, and support services for gay men, were the first organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa to receive grants to help address stigma, discrimination and violence against LGBT people, and to expand their access to HIV care and prevention. At the conference, EJAF also announced an initial start-up grant it will be providing to the International AIDS Society to launch its ‘Me and My Healthcare Provider’ campaign. This campaign celebrates doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare workers, who deliver quality, integrated HIV prevention, care, and treatment services to key populations, including gay men and transgender people, often in the face of discriminatory laws, traditions, and belief systems.
“Supporting LGBT people in the US, the UK and internationally, has been at the heart and soul of our Foundation’s mission from the very beginning,” said David Furnish, Chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. “By partnering with PEPFAR to award the inaugural LGBT Fund recipients, and by supporting the International AIDS Society’s new ‘Me and My Healthcare Provider’ Campaign, we are building on that commitment and expanding this lifesaving work to places where it is needed most. Places where LGBT people are much more likely to be living with HIV and far less likely to receive the essential services they need to stay healthy and alive. We believe these global campaigns will bridge the gap between LGBT communities and their service providers, which is essential for ending AIDS.”
Sir Elton also participated in a special session with Prince Harry, where the two men discussed the harmful consequences of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, particularly among youth and adolescents. To achieve an AIDS-free world, both men stressed the need for education, access to testing and medical care, and support for young people worldwide.
“Empowered young people, from all walks of life and all circumstances, have always urged us to push past the status quo and reach for a dream that is BIG and BOLD, " said Sir Elton John, Founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. “Fifteen years ago, when the International AIDS Conference was last held in Durban, 1,000 South Africans were dying of AIDS each day – nearly 1 every minute. Today, HIV medicine costs as little as 3 rand – 20 cents – a day. The rate of new HIV infections here has been cut in half; almost all babies here are being born HIV free; and 3.5 million people here are now on treatment and living full and productive lives. That is some serious progress, and it’s because young, new voices demanded that people everywhere have access to lifesaving treatments, not just those in living in rich countries. If we want HIV programs to work for young people, we can’t tell them what to do or think, we need to nurture their voices. We need to listen to them and we need them to tell us what skills and services will help create the AIDS-free generation we all dream of.”
During their time in Durban, Sir Elton and EJAF Chairman David Furnish visited LGBT people, outreach workers, and staff at the Gateway clinic in Umlazi township alongside the South African health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi. Sir Elton and the Minister discussed the issue of providing pre-exposure prophylaxis medication or ‘PrEP’ to LGBT persons to protect them from acquiring HIV. The South African government has already approved the use of PrEP for sex workers – another high risk group for HIV.
The Gateway Clinic is one of over 100 clinics in South Africa whose staff have been trained to support LGBT clients under a grant from the Foundation to the NGO Anova. Over 1 million HIV tests will be given to LGBT clients during the course of the programme.
Sir Elton and David also visited HIV-positive adolescents 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.
Since 2013, EJAF has provided over $14.4 million in support for LGBT communities in Africa, Asia and Europe, and has invested $3.4 million to support its youth-based campaign “Young Survivors” in Harare (Zimbabwe), Kampala (Uganda), Kisumu (Kenya), Lusaka (Zambia) and Beira (Mozambique).