Elton John Tuesday blasted Russia and eastern Europe governments for “discrimination against gays” saying such bigotry was thwarting the fight against AIDS, as scientists announced disappointing results in the quest for a cure.
In a sudden tirade at the second day of a major conference, John, a seasoned AIDS campaigner, gave voice to years of frustration and spoke of the plight of gays who are oppressed in many nations.
“If there wasn’t this bigotry and hatred, then this disease could be eliminated far quicker than you could ever think,” John told reporters at the Amsterdam gathering.
“Basically what it comes down to is that these countries are discriminating very badly against LGBT people,” he said, slamming governments for limiting access for lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual people to testing and treatment programmes.
“And it’s holding us back, and until we can get that … idea out of our heads that gay people are lesser, then I’m afraid we will still be sitting here in 20 years discussing the same thing.”
– Young men at risk –
It came just hours after he teamed up with Britain’s Prince Harry to launch a $1.2 billion initiative Tuesday to “break the cycle” of HIV transmission dubbed the MenStar Coalition and targeted at young men, among whom infections are on the rise.
The celebrity duo were lending their mega-wattage star power to efforts to end the lingering stigma around HIV, and protect future generations, with many young people who have been born with the virus attending the conference to talk about their struggles.
“Young people are the only age group where HIV infections are rising, not falling,” warned the 71-year-old Elton John, whose foundation has raised some $400 million in the quarter century since it was set up in 1992.
“We have to do much, much more to bring men, especially younger men, more fully into the fold” in order that they also shield their sexual partners, he insisted.
Some 37 million people live with HIV today, with some 1.8 million new infections recorded last year. But John insisted that if the political will existed, the disease could be eliminated in his lifetime.
Some 15,000 delegates — researchers, campaigners, activists and people living with the HIV virus which causes AIDS — have gathered for a five-day global council of war amid warnings the AIDS epidemic could yet spiral out of control.
A renewed focus on preventing infection, with rates surging in some regions — particularly eastern Europe and central Asia, is critical as the scientific quest for a vaccine and cure continues.
– Scientific challenges –
On Monday, researchers reported setbacks in a number of studies and trials.
“A cure remains a top scientific priority,” said researcher Sharon Lewin of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne.
However, “what we’ve learnt, I think over the last decade: this is going to be a very difficult scientific challenge.”
Experts on Tuesday reported worrying cases of birth defects among women using a promising new drug, and said that “feminising” hormone therapy appears to lower concentrations of virus-suppressing medicine in the blood.
A trial to test a new strategy to “kick” the AIDS-causing HIV virus out of its hiding place in human cells, then “kill” it, also yielded a disappointing outcome.
Experts this week warned that the epidemic which has killed 35 million people so far, may resurge due to political “apathy” and a resultant shortage of funding.
Among them are men aged 24 to 35 who are accessing HIV testing and treatment at “unacceptably low rates,” said Elton John.
“The progress we have fought so hard for is at risk from a dangerous complacency,” Prince Harry warned.
The new initiative was “inspired by the growing alarm of the rate of new HIV infections among young women” and aimed at “bravely tackling the root of this problem — the lack of awareness of HIV prevention amongst hard-to-reach young men.”
South African actress Charlize Theron meanwhile also raised a flag for women. The epidemic is “not just about sex or sexuality,” she said. “We know it is linked to the second-class status of women and girls worldwide.”
UNAIDS estimates the global fight is short some $7 billion per year.