By Tim Saunders on
Elton John has written a letter – published in the Washington Post – to Ryan White, a teenage friend who died of AIDS 20 years ago.
“Twenty years ago this month, you died of AIDS,” wrote the singer. “I would gladly give my fame and fortune if only I could have one more conversation with you, the friend who changed my life as well as the lives of millions living with HIV. Instead, I have written you this letter.”
Ryan White was only 18 when he died in 1990. He attracted a frenzy of media when he was expelled from his middle school because of the disease, which he contracted from a blood treatment for his hemophilia. At a time when AIDS was poorly understood by the world, Ryan helped reduce stigmas and raise awareness.
“I remember so well when we first met,” wrote Sir Elton. "A young boy with a terrible disease, you were the epitome of grace. You never blamed anyone for the illness that ravaged your body or the torment and stigma you endured.
“When students, parents and teachers in your community shunned you, threatened you and expelled you from school… You said they were simply afraid of what they did not know.”
“Ryan, I wish you could know how much the world has changed since 1990, and how much you changed it,” continues Sir Elton in the letter. "Young boys and girls with HIV attend school and take medicine that allows them to lead normal lives… The insults and injustices you suffered are not tolerated by society.
“Most important, Ryan, you inspired awareness, which helped lead to lifesaving treatments. In 1990, four months after you died, Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act, which now provides more than $2 billion each year for AIDS medicine and treatment for half a million Americans. Today, countless people with HIV live long, productive lives.
“It would sadden you that today, in certain parts of the United States, some poor people with AIDS are still placed on waiting lists to receive treatment. It would anger you that your government is still not doing enough to help vulnerable people with HIV and populations that are at high risk of contracting the virus, including sexually active teenagers. It would upset you that AIDS is a leading cause of death among African Americans.
“It would frustrate you that even though hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive Americans are receiving treatment in your name, more than 200,000 don’t know their HIV-positive status, largely because a lingering stigma surrounding the disease prevents them from being tested. It would disappoint you that many teenagers do not have access to science-based HIV-prevention programs in school, at a time when half of new infections are believed to be among people under 25.
“I miss you so very much, Ryan. I was by your side when you died at Riley Hospital. You’ve been with me every day since. You inspired me to change my life and carry on your work. Because of you, I’m still in the struggle against AIDS, 20 years later. I pledge to not rest until we achieve the compassion for which you so bravely and beautifully fought.”
Read the entire letter in The Washington Post.
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