Speaking at the International Aids Conference this week, stars Charlize Theron and Elton John have both highlighted the devastating impact of stigma and prejudice on the fight against HIV.
Speaking to reporters at the event in Amsterdam on Tuesday, John criticised some governments for discriminating against LGBT people. “If there wasn’t this bigotry and hatred, then this disease could be eliminated far quicker than you could ever think,” he said.
“Basically what it comes down to is that these countries are discriminating very badly against LGBT people. And it’s holding us back, and until we can get that … idea out of our heads, that gay people are lesser, then I’m afraid we will still be sitting here in 20 years discussing the same thing.”
The iconic singer and HIV campaigner added: “This is the first disease which could be cured in my lifetime. Politicians need to step up to the plate. They can end this disease so quickly … please, please think of human beings as being equal. As being one race of people, and not dividing them up into subtexts.”
John attended the conference with Prince Harry to launch a new billion-dollar campaign, called the MenStar Coalition. “MenStar will expand the diagnosis and treatment of HIV infections in men – keys to breaking the cycle of HIV transmission and ultimately ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” said the coalition in a statement.
“Men, particularly those aged 24 to 35, access HIV testing and treatment at low rates, endangering their own health and also expanding the spread of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.” The project will help provide men-specific clinic services as well as offering HIV self-testing kits.
South African-born actress Charlize Theron spoke at the Aids Conference’s opening plenary, on behalf of her Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project. She said that the spread of the virus was driven by the second-class status of women and the LGBT community. “We have come a long way as a global community from that moral panic that defined early stages of this epidemic,” she said.
“Most of us now know and understand that HIV is not just about sex or sexuality. We know it is linked to the second-class status of women and girls worldwide. We know HIV targets communities that our societies have exploited, discarded and shamed. Communities like sex workers, people who inject drugs, and our trans community and men who have sex with men.”
Theron continued: “The fight against HIV is linked to centuries’ long fight for equality, dignity and human rights and the only way to win this war is by shifting power to the people who have been shut out, by elevating local leadership, especially young people, by spreading opportunity and access.
“I saw South Africa brought to its knees by the AIDS epidemic. I grew up in apartheid South Africa and saw my country tear itself apart with prejudice and then rebuild with Ubuntu, a belief in a common humanity and that we are all bound to one another. I can feel this spirit here in this room,” she said,
More than 15,000 people have gathered in Amsterdam for the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) until Friday to focus on major new investments, science-based policies and the political will needed to put the HIV response back on track.