Elton John: We have the drugs to end this disease

Elton John, founder of The Elton John AIDS Foundation, speaks to CNN's Max Foster about global attitudes toward AIDS and efforts to eradicate it.

Posted: Jul 25, 2018 12:43 PM
Updated: Jul 25, 2018 12:46 PM

Among scourges like malaria, diabetes and cancer, AIDS is "the only disease that could legitimately be ended in our lifetime," if only old-fashioned attitudes and society could be changed, Elton John said Tuesday.

At the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, the 71-year-old musician and activist told CNN of his frustration at the lack of compassion and humanity toward groups most affected by HIV, such as LGBT communities. The stigma they face causes them to miss out on life-saving testing and treatment, he said.

John believes that the UNAIDS target of ending AIDS by 2030 could be hit with the help of allies such as Britain's Prince Harry, whose "passion for HIV" he described as an asset in the fight. US President Donald Trump could be key too if he shows support for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, to "keep the foot on the accelerator" rather than making cuts to the successful bipartisan program.

"Maybe he could be the president of the United States who ends AIDS altogether. Why not?" John asked, adding that "no disease has had scientific progress like this disease."

"Nobody needs to die of AIDS anymore."

Memories of Diana

On Tuesday morning, John took to the stage at the conference with Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, to launch a $1.2 billion partnership with the Elton John AIDS Foundation and PEPFAR called the MenStar Coalition. It will work creatively to boost HIV diagnosis and treatment among young men, focusing on those 24 to 35, among whom testing and treatment rates are low, endangering their own health and that of the people they have sex with.

On stage, Prince Harry described how proud he was to join John, "who has always put people at the center of his work."

In return, John told CNN how Prince Harry had inherited his mother's ability to "charm the pants of anyone" and the value that brings to make people care about HIV and the people affected by the infection.

He also spoke fondly of Harry's mother, Princess Diana, who he believes would be delighted at the progress in the field, adding that "we'd have probably come a lot further as well" if she were alive today.

During her time advocating for people with HIV/AIDS, Diana broke down barriers, including by visiting and shaking hands with patients.

John and his husband, David Furnish, said there are still many barriers to be taken down, namely around stigma and support for vulnerable groups such as injection drug users, sex workers and LGBT groups across Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Rising HIV rates

On Tuesday, John announced the strategy and grantees of another recently announced fund to support key populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, one of only two regions globally where the HIV epidemic continues to grow rapidly. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, more than 1.5 million people are living with HIV, and new infections have risen by over 50% since 2010.

The epidemic there is fueled by a lack of government support, poor programs to aid people in diagnosis and beginning treatment, and high costs of antiretroviral treatment and treatment-related services, particularly for LGBT people, according to the foundation.

John hopes that by showing what works to bring new infections down and provide support to those in need, governments will come on board to take on the problem.

"We've gone in and worked in slightly more controversial ways, working strongly with marginalized communities that people don't want to embrace. We get the results and we make a compelling case for it to be expanded," Furnish said.

"In most places, when a government sees it works, they come on board. I don't think there's been a country that we've worked in that it hasn't worked," he said, highlighting Ukraine, South Africa and England.

"We do the work, they come on board, and then we work together," he said. "That's the best way to do it."

Fighting anti-gay laws

The foundation is showcasing results in sub-Saharan Africa, where an LGBT fund helps communities cope with being penalties and discrimination for being homosexual in their own countries. The $10 million fund has been in progress for two years and has reached almost 60,000 people across the region. That includes helping church clergy across denominations in Kenya with housing support, treatment and counseling for clergy who had been suspended and rejected after speaking out for LGBT members of their communities or identifying as LGBT themselves.

Another project in Ghana provided secure accommodations and legal help to LGBT people facing threats of sacrifice for bringing taboo to their community.

"Anybody we see in distress who is treated unfairly," Furnish said, "we have to speak out and support them."

More than 70 countries criminalize same-sex relationships, so people are less likely to access HIV diagnosis and treatment facilities. They're 19 times more likely to be living with HIV, according to the foundation.

John has seen how attitudes can change.

"I remember going to South Africa in Cape Town and setting up a helpline at [the University of Cape Town] for students who couldn't talk about being gay or having AIDS or HIV because they would be thrown out of university," he said. "Now, you don't get that anymore."

Impact of friends and family

After more than 20 years each working in the field, what continues to drive John and Furnish in the fight against AIDS? Both referred to friends they lost early on in the epidemic. Progress made to end HIV/AIDS would mean that "they didn't die for nothing," John said.

"We were profoundly affected by the people we lost," Furnish added, explaining that although progress has been made in some parts of the West, such as the UK, allowing him and John to marry and adopt children, he looks "at the other side of the coin, where people are so marginalized by their sexuality and they don't have the privileges and benefits and joys that we have."

"We have to attack that head-on," he said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 34211

Reported Deaths: 2125
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9761576
Lake3573186
Allen160069
Cass15877
St. Joseph126634
Elkhart126228
Hendricks116671
Hamilton115493
Johnson1097108
Madison58659
Porter53428
Bartholomew50834
Clark49741
LaPorte43023
Howard40428
Tippecanoe3933
Delaware38536
Jackson3821
Shelby37122
Hancock33127
Floyd31839
Boone31635
Morgan27824
Vanderburgh2662
Montgomery23817
White2338
Noble22821
Clinton2271
Decatur22431
Grant21022
Dubois1993
Harrison19422
Henry17211
Greene16924
Vigo1688
Dearborn16821
Monroe16712
Warrick16628
Lawrence15924
Miami1401
Putnam1367
Jennings1304
Kosciusko1271
Orange12622
Scott1193
Franklin1108
Ripley1086
Marshall1021
Carroll932
Daviess8516
Steuben832
Wayne785
Fayette777
Newton7710
Wabash772
LaGrange762
Jasper661
Washington521
Clay511
Jay500
Fulton491
Randolph473
Rush462
Pulaski460
Jefferson451
Whitley413
Starke393
DeKalb371
Sullivan351
Owen341
Brown331
Perry320
Wells310
Benton300
Knox280
Huntington272
Tipton251
Blackford252
Crawford240
Fountain212
Switzerland200
Spencer201
Parke170
Adams171
Posey160
Gibson152
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin110
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0167

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 118917

Reported Deaths: 5330
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook771193603
Lake8238288
DuPage7620368
Kane6259176
Will5510273
Winnebago220955
McHenry153972
St. Clair112180
Kankakee90045
Kendall77819
Rock Island65124
Champaign6277
Madison57259
Boone44117
DeKalb3994
Sangamon34829
Jackson28210
Randolph2694
Peoria2218
McLean21813
Ogle2033
Stephenson2012
Macon19419
Clinton18617
Union15510
LaSalle15013
Whiteside13912
Iroquois1314
Coles12615
Out of IL1181
Warren1150
Jefferson10116
Grundy982
Knox980
Monroe9511
McDonough8711
Lee811
Unassigned800
Cass730
Tazewell725
Henry690
Williamson661
Pulaski560
Marion500
Jasper457
Macoupin452
Adams441
Perry420
Montgomery391
Vermilion391
Morgan361
Christian354
Livingston342
Jo Daviess320
Douglas270
Fayette203
Ford201
Jersey201
Menard200
Woodford192
Mason180
Washington180
Hancock170
Mercer170
Carroll162
Shelby161
Bureau151
Schuyler130
Bond121
Franklin120
Clark110
Crawford110
Fulton110
Moultrie110
Piatt110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Logan100
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Johnson80
Effingham71
Massac70
Saline70
Greene50
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
Wabash20
White20
Calhoun10
Edgar10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Terre Haute
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 56°
Robinson
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 56°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
59° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 59°
Rockville
Scattered Clouds
53° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 53°
Casey
Clear
58° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 58°
Brazil
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 56°
Marshall
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 56°
A calm evening is expected
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events