'To get to the stage when AIDS is just a memory you and I are going to have to love a lot more. We are going to have to find the most hated and stigmatised people in the world and love them.' SirElton John, Life Ball 2013
Straight-talking words from Sir Elton John, who spoke in front of a crowd of over 35,000 people at this year’s Life Ball in Vienna - Europe’s biggest HIV/AIDS fundraising event. The annual ball brings people from all over the world together to raise funds for national and international HIV/AIDS programmes and to promote awareness and public consciousness about the AIDS response.
The funds donated to the Foundation from this year's ball allow us to continue our work in Russia and East African countries that focuses on men who have sex with men who are at high risk of being infected.
It was a poignant speech from Sir Elton John, who along with other key figures such as former President Bill Clinton, UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and the singer Fergie representing amfAR (the Foundation for AIDS Research) reflected on the progress that science, money and care have made since the epidemic first broke out.
The Elton John AIDS Foundation’s work in particular was commended by former US President Bill Clinton, ‘A lot of the success and work achieved so far has been championed by UNAIDS, the Global Fund, the Elton John AIDS Foundation and other partners’, he said.
Sir Elton John highlighted the need for everyone to love and show love for people living on the outer margins of society. He said:
‘If we leave a single gay person behind, if we leave a single drug addict behind, if we leave a single sex worker behind, we will never leave AIDS behind. It is only when everyone, wherever they live in the world is free to come forward for health advice and health care without facing hatred, that we will win this fight.’
At the show, actress Hilary Swank presented The Crystal of Hope Award – a 100, 000 euro reward that honours individuals who are making a difference in the AIDS response – which was given to representatives of the The Girl Effect - a programme that supports girls around the world to fight poverty and prevent them from being infected HIV. The Elton John AIDS Foundation grantee The Way Home was awarded the Crystal of Hope in 2011 for its work with HIV-infected street kids in Odessa, Ukraine.
Events such as the Life Ball do a fantastic job in reminding us that fighting AIDS is about keeping HIV on the agenda, making it visible, acceptable and showing support and compassion. In the past, Life Ball’s donations have allowed us to work in partnership with organisations from the All Ukrainian Positive People's Network, a Ukrainian support network focused on helping those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS ensuring the people who need it have access to treatment and have enough love and support around them to not be driven underground by stigma and discrimination. Our funding has brought about an additional $151m in funds from the Global Fund for TB, AIDS and Malaria which in turn has allowed the network to be rolled out into the wider community and to provide more in depth services for the people of Ukraine.