Sir Elton John, American Secretary of State, John Kerry and David Furnish

Music legend and philanthropist Sir Elton John has announced a major boost in efforts to tackle HIV amongst gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (MSM) in South Africa.

Over the weekend, it was revealed that Anova Health Institute’s Health4Men project has been given a new $7 million grant to support its work in this community.

This significant funding to expand MSM-targeted HIV-related services in South Africa is the result of a new partnership between the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The news was announced in Washington on Friday by the singer and American Secretary of State, John Kerry and in Johannesburg by the Anova Health Institute’s Chief Executive Officer, Professor James McIntyre.

“As one of millions who have heard the Obama administration’s voice loud and clear on human rights and sexuality, I am enormously proud that my Foundation is now working with PEPFAR to help realise an AIDS-free future for everyone, regardless of who they love or how they love,” said John.

“MSM remain a neglected key population throughout Africa, including South Africa. This significant funding comes at a time when we are supporting access to competent health services for MSM, free of prejudice, throughout the country in partnership with our Department of Health and the South African National Aids Council (SANAC),” said McIntyre.

“It will allow us to extend such access while also implementing a national prevention campaign targeting MSM,” he explained.

McIntyre told reporters that the additional funding will augment and significantly extend Anova’s current MSM-targeted initiatives supported by PEPFAR through USAID, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“Our Health4Men project, which targets MSM sexual health, has clearly taken the local lead in the design and implementation of innovative strategies to address the health needs of MSM in South Africa,” he said. 

“We look forward to a coordinated national campaign to address all aspects of HIV among MSM in South Africa, the first such opportunity in Africa, which will include both prevention and treatment initiatives.”

Health4Men’s Programme Manager, Glenn de Swardt, expressed excitement at the additional funding but cautioned: “The world will be watching us and we need to get this right. We have tremendous confidence in our highly talented team of sexual health experts. To date we have trained over 3 000 health workers in South Africa, in addition to clinicians from Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, in how to work with MSM.

“This is one of the most exciting moments in South Africa’s response to the HIV pandemic,” he added.

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