WASHINGTON - Elton John forecast Wednesday the end of AIDS in his lifetime - but only if the United States keeps leading the world in bankrolling its eradication.
The British pop music icon and AIDS activist was the star turn at a Senate hearing on future funding for the United States’ core global AIDS initiative. ‘The AIDS epidemic is not over and America’s continued leadership is critical,’ the 68-year-old John warned. ‘There is a window of opportunity before us , a window through which we can very clearly see the end of AIDS within my lifetime,’ he said. ‘We cannot afford to let the window close if our efforts flag,’ added the founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised more than $321 million since 1992 for AIDS treatment and prevention. ‘Drug resistance will surface, transmission rates will rise and this disease which knows no boundaries will once again become a ruthless pandemic with disastrous and far-reaching consequences.’
John was speaking to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee who are considering funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) going forward. The program, which has requested $6.542 billion for fiscal 2016, was launched by president George W. Bush in 2003 and substantially beefed up by his successor Barack Obama.
Bono was also invited to testify, but Senator Lindsey Graham, who chaired the hearing, said the U2 frontman and activist is still recovering from a serious bicycle accident in New York last November. US efforts to wipe out AIDS in the developing world enjoy bipartisan support in Washington, with Graham saying ‘terrorists’ would likely be the only people to oppose its funding .
Flattering his hosts, John credited US generosity with providing life-saving medication for 400,000 people living with HIV and slashing mother-to-child AIDS transmission by half. ‘Because of the actions of this Congress, the course of the AIDS epidemic has been altered for all of humanity,’ he said.
‘This Congress indeed has the power to end AIDS ,’ he added, warning however that cutting the PEPFAR budget would be ‘a huge blow’ leading to disaster. When Graham asked John what his worst fear was going forward, he replied: ‘The worst fear is stigma, to be honest with you.’ In Africa especially, he said, ‘draconian laws’ are forcing gay men with HIV to go underground ‘and the disease is spread even further.’
Once we get people on (anti-retroviral) drugs, it’s fantastic,’ said John , who came to Washington with his Canadian-born husband David Furnish, chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
‘But getting people to feel unashamed ... because they may have an orientation that the leader of the government may not approve of, is incredibly important,’ he said.
Graham, a self-described conservative Republican from South Carolina who is mulling a 2016 White House bid, and who opposes same-sex marriage, appeared slightly uncomfortable with that response. John added: ‘If Christ was alive today, and I believe in Christ, he would be appalled at the way people are being stigmatised.’