Elton at AIDS conference: ‘I should be dead’
Tuesday, July 24 2012
More than new therapies or vaccine, what the world needs now to end the AIDS epidemic, says Elton, is love.
"I have just been to the AIDS quilt and I have seen so much love for the dead," said Elton, after visiting the National Mall in Washington, where panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, created to honor victims of the disease, stretch between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol. "What we need is more love for the living."
Elton, whose AIDS Foundation gives away $18 million a year, spoke at AIDS 2012, an international gathering of more than 21,000 researchers, activists and policymakers. Elton and others applauded a message by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who set a goal "for a generation that is free of AIDS."
Yet the best science in the world is useless if it doesn't reach poor people, Elton said. "Maybe you think I'm naïve," he said at the conference. "Maybe you think I'm off my rocker. Here I am telling an audience of 7,000 global health experts that you can end AIDS with love."
Yet he noted that landmark American legislation to provide AIDS relief to developing nations was based, fundamentally, on caring for other people. "Thanks to all this compassion, all this love, more than 8 million people are on treatment. Thanks to people who have chosen to act, who have chosen to care, we can see an end to this epidemic, but it's going to take a lot more compassion to get us there, a hell of a lot more."
Elton noted that "shame and stigma" prevent many people from getting help and "from protecting themselves in the first place." He added, "We have inexpensive and accurate take-home tests for HIV. But we can't convince people to get tested if they think their lives don't count. Millions of people around the world feel ashamed because of who they are. They feel subhuman, worthless, like they don't matter at all."
Elton described his recovery from cocaine addiction, and how he was inspired by the young AIDS activist Ryan White to get clean. "I felt that shame before and it almost killed me," Elton said. "It's killing people all around the world. We have to replace the stigma with compassion."
Elton also called on the USA to address its own HIV epidemic. "Do you want to end the epidemic in America? Then show some compassion for those who can't afford treatment," Elton said in his speech. "Show compassion for those with HIV in Washington, D.C., most of whom are poor and black. Americans has shown so much love for those living with HIV in the developing world. If Americans wanted to show compassion for those living with HIV here at home, then it could do so in a heartbeat."
In an interview with USA TODAY, Elton said he also had a message for young people being bullied. These kids need to get support, he said, so that they won't feel so alone. He said he's been heartbroken to hear of kids committing suicide because of bullying. "Look, if you're being bullied, the Internet is not the place to go," Elton said. "Reach out to another human being."