Pietermaritzburg - “No one gets left behind. We will change things. People will fight and they will be heroes.”
Internationally acclaimed singer and Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) activist Sir Elton John said this in a special press conference on Wednesday at the Durban ICC.
John addressed an ecstatic crowd of media, delegates and members of the LGBT community on the fight against HIV and the stigma surrounding the LGBT community in Africa and around the world.
He said things had come a long way in terms of the stigma surrounding the LGBT community around the world, however there was much work that still had to be done.
“No one gets left behind. No matter the colour of your skin, your sexual orientation or your culture, we are all equal and we all will die equal and what happens in between should not matter. We are brave, and I am so impressed by the humanity, the will to survive and the will to succeed each time I visit South Africa.”
John said that “being out of the closet” meant you were free and was the start to one day erasing all stigma surrounding HIV and being LGBT.
“Hopefully one day, all stigma will be erased. By then, I will be long gone, but at least I know we have been able to put things in motion.”
John, on behalf of his Elton John Aids Foundation along with the U.S. President’s Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) announced that $10 million would be awarded to the International HIV/Aids Alliance and the Men who have Sex with Men Global Forum (MSMGF) which work with other organisations in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The money is to be distributed among smaller organisations in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean in HIV treatment and Sub-Saharan Africa and Caribbean LGBT organisations.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and International Aids Society president Chris Breyrer said at the conference that it was of the utmost importance to make access to treatment available to those living with HIV, especially in the transgender community, where the HIV rate was 40 times higher and the gay community where it was 20 times higher than the usual rate.
Pepfar ambassador Deborah Birx said that it was essential that scientific, political and community leaders created a bond in fighting the epidemic.
“In the 1980s we saw photographs of young men taking to the streets and dying so that others could live,” she said.
Birx said that although research and studies had produced exciting data for possible new treatments and prevention plans, early diagnosis was key in reducing the HIV/Aids infection rate.
“In many countries such as Sub-Saharan Africa diagnosis is done very late because of the stigma surrounding those with HIV and the LGBT community with HIV.
“They are forced into the shadows and it is unacceptable.”
She said John had been a “shining light and unrelenting” in his fight for access to treatment.
“It is not just funding that makes treatment available, it is also the people that speak out that make access to treatment available.