On Friday, June 21, Sir Elton John, Founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), received the highest French order of merit – the Légion d’Honneur – from President Emmanuel Macron in a small private ceremony at the Elysée Palace in Paris.
The award honors Elton for his lifetime contribution to the arts and the global effort to end AIDS. Among the attendees at the ceremony were Elton’s husband and EJAF Chairman David Furnish and their two young sons, as well as global health leaders including Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund, and Lelio Marmora, Executive Director of Unitaid.
“Sir Elton John has been one of the most steadfast and outspoken supporters of the fight against HIV, and France is a world leader in rallying support, funding, and research to end AIDS,” said Sands. “This award acknowledges Sir Elton’s lifetime contributions in music, as well as his work to support millions of people living with HIV and AIDS around the world.”
Elton and President Macron then stepped outside to address the thousands of people gathered in the Elysée courtyard to celebrate the annual Fête de la Musique. In his remarks, Elton expressed his tremendous affection for France and its people, thanked President Macron for the award, and then urged world leaders to commit to the replenishment of the Global Fund. He noted, “The fight against AIDS has been my passion for many, many years. We have made such incredible progress, but we cannot become complacent. A fully replenished Global Fund is essential if we are going to consign this disease to history. I commend President Macron for his leadership in this effort.”
President Macron added, “AIDS still exists, still strikes, and continues to advance. We still have a lot to do to convince people that they must protect themselves, that it is not a story of the previous generation, but of young people today.” He then called for a mass mobilization of young people to badger their leaders in advance of the next meeting of the Global Fund in Lyon, France, in October, and demand that participating countries raise $14 billion for the Global Fund in order to save more than 16 million lives over the next three years. “We must do better,” President Macron said, “Make life impossible for us!” The Global Fund is credited with saving 27 million lives since its creation in 2002.
The previous day, Elton, Marmora, and Sands published an op-ed in Le Monde, “The end of the HIV epidemic is in sight, but not quite within our reach,” discussing the important work of their three organizations, how far we’ve come in the effort to end AIDS, and what it will take to finally achieve this goal. Describing “a virtuous circle,” the “improbable trio: an artist, an economist, and a lawyer” talked about how partnerships between organizations like Unitaid, the Global Fund, and the Elton John AIDS Foundation make it possible to finance, innovate, scale up, and implement programs to treat and support millions of people living with HIV/AIDS. Together, the three leaders urged the world to amplify this message and work together to support the fight against AIDS.
Following Elton and President Macron’s call to arms from the Élysée, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart announced on Saturday, June 29, that the UK would contribute £1.4 billion to Global Fund replenishment. This represents a very substantial increase and will have a positive impact on countless lives.
Elton commented on the UK’s generous response with the following statement: “Last week in Paris, President Macron and I called on the world to support Replenishment of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria. It is with profound respect that I thank the UK government for today’s historic pledge to help do just that. This sets an extraordinary example for others to follow and shows that, in the matter of saving millions of lives and eradicating some of the world’s greatest killer diseases, there is a shared vision and commitment to reach SDG 3 (Sustainable Development Goal 3).”