Legendary singer Elton John and his husband David Furnish on Thursday announced grants of $25 million to projects combatting HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – the only region where new infections are rising rapidly as rates plummet worldwide.
About 1.7 million people in the region are HIV positive – about 4% of the global total of 38 million – with most new infections among people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, sex workers and their clients, United Nations data shows.
The grants are the first to be announced under RADIAN, a partnership between the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the pharmaceutical company Gilead that was announced last year to address the rising incidence of HIV in the region.
“This region has seen a dramatic 72% increase in new HIV infections in the last decade when the global rate has decreased by 23%,” Furnish, chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which was founded in 1992, said in a statement.
“Considering we have the tools and treatment to prevent and treat HIV, this is shocking and we are committed to not leave anyone behind.”
Over the next five years, the initiative will work to prevent new HIV infections and ensure good quality care for HIV positive people in the region – most of whom are in Russia where there is widespread stigma about HIV/AIDS and homophobia.
This makes it hard to access testing and treatment, which are key to the fight against HIV/AIDS as medication reduces levels of the virus in the blood, preventing transmission.
John, 73, a prominent gay rights activist, has spoken out against a 2013 law banning “gay propaganda” in Russia and also condemned the reported censorship of scenes involving gay sex and drug taking in a 2019 movie based on his life, “Rocketman”.
The “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” singer has sold 300 million records and raised almost half a billion dollars in the fight against HIV/AIDS, earning him a knighthood in 1998.
Hopes for a cure for the virus are rising after a man in Brazil was reported this week to have gone into long-term remission following treatment with multiple AIDS drugs.