Community News

Elton calls for action from digital giants during Diana HIV lecture

Besi Besemar June 9, 2018

At yesterdays (June 9) Diana, Princess of Wales Lecture on HIV, Sir Elton John called for renewed global action on HIV.

THE landmark lecture, the latest in a series launched by NAT (National AIDS Trust) in memory of their late patron, Princess Diana, was delivered in partnership with the Elton John AIDS Foundation at the Institut Français in London, in front of an audience of politicians, health workers, journalists, civil society leaders, celebrities and people living with HIV.

Sir Elton followed in the footsteps of Kofi Annan and Bill Clinton who delivered previous NAT lectures in Diana’s memory in 1999 and 2001, respectively.

Reflecting on Princess Diana’s ability to form personal connections, “she did not distinguish between ‘us’ and ‘them.’” he recalled the impact of her first handshake with a patient dying of AIDS, and issued a rallying cry for the digital, connected world to fight HIV, saying: “At a stroke we can reach 2 billion people in a single moment on Facebook…imagine all that power to connect turned into billions of handshakes, all over the world.”

He called on social media companies to take action on HIV and AIDS, “I am used to putting pressure on pharmaceutical companies. I am used to putting pressure on governments. We have had some success with both. The pressure now needs to be applied to the tech giants – not because I think they are bad, but because they have the capacity to do so much good.”

Adding late: “The geniuses who created this industry must not hide behind its anonymity. They must use their power to help shape a new digital world…How incredible if they could start with something as pernicious, as lethal, as the stigma of AIDS.”

He also called for the UK to sign up to UNAIDS Fast Track Commitment Aims to eradicate AIDS by 2030 and for a new strategy document.

Speaking of  the battle to prevent HIV in England he criticised cuts to sexual health services, saying: “HIV prevention activity has been subject to savage cuts…In the two years between 2015 and 2017 there was a 28 per cent cut – and the reductions were especially sharp in services for black, Asian and ethnic minority groups and drug users.”

He offered a stark reminder of the international impact of AIDS, saying: “AIDS is still the second largest killer of 10-19 year olds on the planet. With a projected youth bulge in Africa over the next 15 years, this is only set to get worse unless something dramatic is done.”  

And closed the lecture with a hopeful message about future progress, saying: “For all of us in this room, and for all the people who have been engaged in the fight against AIDS over the past 30 years, thank you for your humanity. For seeing people as people. For fighting for good medicine, support, fair laws, kindness, progress. We have come a long way… and we are close. I am optimistic that we will win.”

David Furnish, Chairman of EJAF (Elton John AIDS Foundation) said: “There is still so much misunderstanding about HIV and AIDS that propels stigma and hatred. Beyond the health community, there’s also still so little understanding of how far we have come and how promising an AIDS free future really is. It was inspiring to hear Elton call for a greater sense of kindness and human connection in the fight against AIDS. I hope his words can help catalyse new initiatives, especially in the digital sphere.”  

Prof Jane Anderson
Prof Jane Anderson

Professor Jane Anderson, Chair of NAT added: “It has been very important for those of us who have been working in the field of HIV for decades to hear Sir Elton’s reflections on the progress that has been made, both in the UK and globally. The National AIDS Trust looks forward to playing a key role in helping to promote Sir Elton’s message of making personal connections, and forging partnerships that allow us to harness new technologies for HIV prevention and treatment. And, crucially, to strengthen the fight against the sigma and the misinformation that is at the heart of almost every obstacle we face.”

The Diana, Princess of Wales Lecture on HIV was launched by NAT in 1999 as a living tribute to Princess Diana (who was a patron of NAT until her tragic death in 1997). Yesterdays lecture was delivered in partnership with EJAF (Elton John AIDS Foundation) supported by Gucci.