AMSTERDAM – Non-governmental organizations in eastern Europe and central Asia providing essential HIV treatment and prevention services to populations who have been left behind in the global HIV response will soon get an infusion of resources to reach people who inject drugs and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Singer and HIV activist Sir Elton John announced here on Tuesday that the Elton John AIDS Foundation will commit resources to “work with populations who are cast aside by society,” in the ex-Soviet Union region.
These plans include an emergency fund to rapidly distribute grants directly to grassroots organizations in 10 Eastern European and Central Asian countries working to provide HIV services to key populations – people who are at higher risk of becoming infected with HIV and are less likely to have access to HIV services due to stigma and discriminatory practices and policies. Grants will also be used to fund legal support and address human rights violations, as well as to provide assistance during drug stock-outs.
While new HIV infection rates are dropping globally, new infections have increased by 30 percent since 2010 in eastern Europe, past president of the International AIDS Society Dr. Chris Beyrer said. Virtually all new infections are among people from key population groups, particularly LGBT persons and people who inject drugs. Increasing access to services for these groups would avert 36- to-50 percent of new infections and reduce deaths from drug overdoses by one third, Beryrer said.
“We have an enormous problem in Eastern Europe, especially in the ex-Soviet Union, because of a failure to recognize who needs drugs – they’re being given to the elite few and not to the LGBT population,” John said.
“What it comes down to is that these countries are discriminating very badly against LGBT people,” John said. “If there was no discrimination, we could eliminate this disease far quicker,” he said.
Along with more resources for LGBT needs, a representative from Gilead announced that the pharmaceutical company will donate 5,000 courses of hepatitis C treatment over a three-year period in Russia – a country where it’s estimated that more than 90 percent of people living with HIV are also infected with HCV.
Earlier in the day John was joined by the Duke of Sussex to announce a public-private partnership aiming to increase access for essential HIV services for men in sub-Saharan Africa. The partnership – which includes the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Global Fund, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, and Gilead Sciences – will launch a campaign next year to increase HIV self-testing and HIV status awareness among young men in sub-Saharan Africa.