CLOSE friends Sir Elton John and Prince Harry shared a warm embrace at an AIDS conference – evoking memories of the singer’s charity worker with Princess Diana.
The Duke of Sussex is following in the footsteps of his mother in the fight against AIDS in recent years – raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and encouraging people to get tested.
Harry’s charity, Sentebale, focuses on supporting HIV-positive young people in the African nations of Lesotho and Botswana.
The Prince introduced Sir Elton, who performed at his wedding reception, as he launched the billion-dollar MenStar Coalition at an international Aids conference in Amsterdam.
The 33-year-old praised the star for campaigning to eradicate the disease.
Sir Elton said more work is needed to being young men “into the fold” as a solution to end the scourge of the HIV virus, which is growing among certain groups.
Sir Elton told the delegates: “If we want to end Aids once and for all, we must make men part of the solution.
“It is time there was a global coalition to teach men to protect themselves, and in doing so it will teach them to better protect not only their wives and girlfriends, their sisters and daughters, but also critically their brothers and sons.”
The project will begin in Africa next year, where men across the continent will be encouraged to self-test for HIV, in a bid to empower them to seek treatment if positive and help stop the spread of the virus.
Sir Elton said recent research had shown that men aged 24-35 were tested and treated for the HIV virus at “unacceptably low” rates.
He added: “We must find ways to change this. Too often, and for good reason, men have been seen as the problem in the fight against Aids.
“So in response we have done so much to safeguard women and girls, and rightly so, but we can’t solve the whole problem if we’re only addressing half the situation.
“If we want to end Aids once and for all, we must make men part of the solution.”
Today Harry praised the work that had already been done to tackle the virus and support those who are HIV positive, but warned there is still more to do.
He told the session on Monday morning: “For over a quarter (of a) century, Elton has worked tirelessly to fund research and services in communities around the world.
“And today he has come to Amsterdam to announce his latest endeavour – a billion dollar global partnership to break the cycle of male transmission of HIV, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We stand here at a moment when the progress we have fought so hard for is at risk from a dangerous complacency.
“Too many around the world are still ignoring the damaging knock-on effect on education and other community services from not prioritising HIV prevention and treatment.
“This is a time when new, energetic and innovative solutions are needed more than ever before – and that is exactly what you are about to see from Elton and the Men Star Coalition partners.”
Yesterday the duke joined a session at the conference where youth delegates from countries including India, Zimbabwe and the US spoke about how Aids has affected their lives.
At the end they all gathered for a group picture and Harry even posed for a selfie with one of them.
HOW DIANA HELPED CHANGE ATTITUDES TO AIDS
Sir Elton John and Princess Diana first met in the 1980s and became close friends. In the years leading up to her death, they worked closely with each other to help destigmatise Aids by spreading awareness about the disease.
In 1987, the People’s Princess touched the unnamed man without wearing gloves, challenging the previously believed notion the disease could be passed via skin-to-skin contact. She was the first member of the Royal Family to touch someone with AIDS.
She was quoted as saying: “HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it.”
Diana was a patron of the National Aids Trust at the time of her death in 1997.
Earlier this year, Sir Elton delivered the Diana Princess of Wales Lecture on HIV in her memory and the star continues to praise Princess Diana for using her royal status to normalise AIDS.
Since her death, Sir Elton has continued to work relentlessly to fund research and services across the globe.
(Words by Aisling Finn)