Tuesday, May 19, 2009
ATLANTA - Sir Elton John, the British singer, musician and song-writer whose work has entertained millions, spoke Tuesday at the world's largest biotechnology convention about his latest passion: combating AIDS through science, public education and political action.
John launched the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992 to fund direct patient care services and to promote AIDS education. It has raised about $150 million over time and worked in 55 countries.
He told a luncheon of about 4,000 scientists and industry representatives that AIDS claimed about 60 of his friends, especially when the disease emerged in the 1980s. Because his own lifestyle was unhealthy at the time, John acknowledged, he didn't step forward.
"During the 1980s, I should have been on the front lines. I should have been doing much more. I did not, and I am ashamed," John said. He urged more aggressive public health policies to combat the disease, including distribution of free needles to intravenous drug users.
John's foundation is focused on reaching some of the estimated 33 million people worldwide who are HIV positive and/or living with AIDS. About 2 million people die from AIDS each year. There is no cure today, but researchers are working to bring new therapies and diagnostics to the fight against the disease.
In 2008, 391 new cases of human immunodeficiency virus were reported in Wisconsin. Over the past 11 years, that rate of new infections has remained fairly steady. The peak year for AIDS deaths in Wisconsin was 1993 (373), compared to 67 known deaths in 2007. Wisconsin's AIDS mortality rate is 10th lowest among the states.