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Sir Elton John tells Parliament: 'We can be first country to defeat HIV'

Sir Elton John tells Parliament: 'We can be first country to defeat HIV'

Sir Elton John urged political leaders to do more to eliminate the Aids epidemic, telling Parliament the UK “can be the first country in the world to defeat this awful virus”.

The star, 76, spoke on Wednesday night at a reception hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and Aids at the Speaker’s House, in recognition of his commitment to ending the epidemic through the Elton John Aids Foundation.

It comes after Victoria Atkins, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced the UK Government will be expanding the roll-out of a opt out HIV testing programme to 46 accident and emergency departments across England. Sir Elton described it as “truly wonderful news” that the programme will expand from the current 33 sites to every high prevalence area.

He warned there are still up to 13,000 people with HIV in the UK – undiagnosed or in care – who are still infectious.

He said: “Automatic testing gets to people earlier, which means less HIV transmission, less illness, less death and by the estimate of health economists, £50 million saved for the NHS.”

In his address he said further action was needed to give people access to PrEP “a proven, safe and effective pill to prevent HIV infection”.

“Access to PrEP isn’t equal across the country … or for those at risk”, he said.

He also said we “now need a funded, system-wide approach to finding and re-engaging” an estimated 22,000 people who have stopped HIV treatment since 2015.

“If we do these three things in the UK — opt out testing, equal access to PrEP, and keeping people in treatment — we can be the first country to end new cases of HIV,” he said.

He also urged “whoever wins the next general election” to do more to help end Aids worldwide by 2030.

“I implore you not to waste your allotted time as political leaders,” Sir Elton said.

“Take action and push things a little further than might feel comfortable. And as you do, I can promise you this: I will be there with you.

Sir Elton John pictured with Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle at the event (Dave Benett)
Sir Elton John pictured with Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle at the event (Dave Benett)

“Fighting for equal access and fair treatment. Giving everything I can for the rest of my life to ending HIV and Aids. Because we must stay the course.

“I long to applaud a room like this, after this epidemic has gone.”

Sir Elton suggested the UK should be at the forefront of the fight and showing other nations “how it’s done”.

“We can be the first country in the world to defeat this awful virus,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of the UK doing more internationally, including helping the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

He said: “If the Government is serious about ending Aids, I call on it to fully restore the UK’s commitment, to pledge £1.46 billion pounds this current three-year cycle and ensure the Global Fund is fully financed.”

Sir Elton paid tribute to the role TV show ‘It’s A Sin’ saying because of it “millions of young people today learned about AIDS for the first time.”

He also shared his personal reflections on the long fight to end the AIDS epidemic.

He said: “In the 1990’s, I visited far too many homes where people were dying of AIDS. I remember the helpless, suffocating feeling as one after another they succumbed, not knowing if it would ever end. These memories are etched on my soul, and they taught me a lot. I saw, as millions did, images of my friend Princess Diana publicly shake the hand of a man dying of AIDS and realised a simple act of compassion is a force to be reckoned with.”

“My Foundation was born the year after Freddie {Mercury] died. Spreading love and compassion was our compass. Leaving no one behind was our practice.”