Elton John leads HIV activists urging Boris Johnson to ‘tackle new AIDS emergency’

Elton John and Boris Johnson

Leading HIV activists including Elton John and Gareth Thomas have urged Boris Johnson to fight “a new AIDS emergency” as he prepares to chair the G7 Summit next month.

In an open letter, John and Thomas joined other signatories, including Annie Lennox, Charlize Theron and former presidents Joyce Banda of Malawi and Festus Mogae of Botswana, in warning Johnson that “critical gains are in danger” when it comes to progress on HIV and AIDS during the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter read: “The COVID-19 crisis has shut down HIV prevention and treatment services, in many countries literally overnight.

“It has cut off millions of girls from school, and driven up poverty, gender-based violence and human rights violations.

“All of these factors increase people’s risks of acquiring HIV or of developing AIDS.

“Already we have seen a steep increase in rates of adolescent pregnancy, which we know will mean a surge in HIV infections too.”

The signatories noted that research showed HIV service delivery had fallen by 41 per cent across 502 health facilities in Africa and Asia, and that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had  highlighted the disruption to HIV treatment across the world during the pandemic.

They continued: “As leaders and champions of the global HIV response, we now fear that the number of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths will climb again.

“At its peak, the AIDS pandemic slashed life expectancy in some countries by 20 years and killed off a generation of people at their most productive age, claiming 35 million lives, leaving millions of children orphaned and devastating national economies.

“Combined with the COVID-19 crisis, a resurgent AIDS emergency could be catastrophic. These dangers are real but can be overcome through smart global action.”

The G7 meeting, which takes place from 11 to 13 June, “presents a vital opportunity to rally the world to act together”, they added.

The activists called on Johnson and other global leaders to “fully resource” the G7 commitment to ending HIV by 2030, and reverse the “deeply unsettling” funding cuts to UNAIDS announced by Johnson last month, insisting: “These cuts not only directly hamper the worldwide fight against AIDS, putting 38 million people living with HIV at risk; they also damage the UK’s reputation.

“We cannot let one pandemic crisis open up another,” they wrote.

“We must end COVID-19, and AIDS, everywhere, together… The eyes of the world, Prime Minister, are on the UK, and on you.”