Elton John calls on US Senate to accelerate anti-AIDS fight

Washington, Apr 19 (EFE).- British pop singer Elton John on Wednesday called on the US Congress to keep “our foot on the accelerator” in the global fight against AIDS in a virtual appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In his remarks to the committee, John warned that there is still much to do in the anti-AIDS struggle, despite the fact that deaths from the once almost invariably fatal disease have been cut by 60 percent over the past 20 years.

“We have the tools we need to turn the tide and increasingly national leadership, capacity and ingenuity are taking what is good and making it better and more sustainable – but we need to keep our foot on the accelerator,” the singer-songwriter said.

John appeared remotely before a Senate session focusing on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), pushed forward in 2003 by then-President George W. Bush and via which, since it was launched, the US has invested more than $100 billion in more than 50 countries to fight the disease.

The singer, who in 1992 founded his own foundation against HIV-AIDS, thanked the US for its leadership in the effort.

“The PEPFAR platform has not only transformed HIV into a chronic disease for tens of millions – it has been leveraged to fight (COVID-19) and made countries far better prepared for whatever viral nightmare comes next,” said John, the composer – along with his collaborator and lyricist Bernie Taupin – and performer of dozens of hits such as “Your Song,” “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer.”

In his virtual appearance before the Senate committee, he urged lawmakers – and everyone else – not to let their guard down, noting that figures provided by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS show that progress is faltering, with one AIDS death and three new HIV infections every minute.

Young people who had not yet been born during the early years of the AIDS epidemic need a “wake-up call,” including specific information about the disease and the power to use it, said John, adding that it is necessary to send young people a message that’s relevant to them and to use the means that they use to communicate, including the Internet.

He praised young people, saying that they merely need the tools to “help them help themselves.”

The singer also thanked the PEPFAR program for over the past 20 years saving some 25 million lives and cutting the number of HIV infections in half.

Before the program was inaugurated, he said, “Africa was in free fall,” with some communities having half their adult populations testing positive for HIV and others where 80 percent of pregnant women had been infected.

Part of the power of PEPFAR, John said, has been to demonstrate “the art of the possible.”

Congress is scheduled later this year to consider whether to reauthorize – that is, to extend – the PEPFAR program, a move that would be the fourth extension if lawmakers approve.

A specific amount of funding has not been established for the reauthorization of the program, which in the past has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans, but Congress generally has provided between $6.5 billion and $6.9 billion each year for PEPFAR.

EFE –/bp

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