Elton John, Prince Harry, seek to ‘smash’ HIV stigma

British musician Elton John embraces a participant as Britain’s Prince Harry looks on during a panel “Breaking barriers of inequity in the HIV response” during the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018), the largest HIV/AIDS-focused meeting in the world, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, July 24, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2018

Elton John, Prince Harry, seek to ‘smash’ HIV stigma

  • The celebrity duo lent their mega-wattage star power to efforts to end the lingering stigma around HIV
  • The target of their initiative, dubbed the MenStar Coalition, is young men

AMSTERDAM: Elton John and Britain’s Prince Harry launched a $1.2 billion initiative Tuesday to “break the cycle” of HIV transmission as scientists announced disappointing results in the quest for an AIDS cure.
On the second day of a major international AIDS conference in Amsterdam, the celebrity duo lent their mega-wattage star power to efforts to end the lingering stigma around HIV, and protect future generations against it.
The target of their initiative, dubbed the MenStar Coalition, is young men — among whom infections are on the rise.
“Young people are the only age group where HIV infections are rising, not falling,” warned rock star and veteran AIDS campaigner John.
“We have to do much, much more to bring men, especially younger men, more fully into the fold” — so also shielding their sexual partners, he insisted.
Men aged 24 to 35 were accessing HIV testing and treatment at “unacceptably low rates,” said the flamboyant singer.
“If we want to win this fight, if we want to end AIDS once and for all, we must make men part of the solution” and give them the tools to protect themselves as well as “their wives and girlfriends, their sisters, and daughters, but also critically their brothers and their sons.”
Some 15,000 delegates — researchers, campaigners, activists and people living with the HIV virus which causes AIDS — have gathered for a five-day global council of war amid warnings the AIDS epidemic could yet spiral out of control.
A renewed focus on preventing infection, with rates surging in some regions — particularly eastern Europe and central Asia, is critical as the scientific quest for a vaccine and cure continues.
On Monday, researchers reported setbacks in a number of studies and trials.
“A cure remains a top scientific priority,” said researcher Sharon Lewin of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne.
However, “what we’ve learnt, I think over the last decade: this is going to be a very difficult scientific challenge.”
Experts reported worrying cases of birth defects among women using a promising new drug, and said that “feminizing” hormone therapy appears to lower concentrations of virus-suppressing medicine in the blood.
A trial to test a new strategy to “kick” the AIDS-causing HIV virus out of its hiding place in human cells, then “kill” it, also yielded a disappointing outcome.
Experts this week warned that the epidemic which has killed 35 million people so far, may resurge due to political “apathy” and a resultant shortage of funding.
“The progress we have fought so hard for is at risk from a dangerous complacency,” Prince Harry told conference delegates.
The new initiative was focused on “the tough but essential work of truly changing mindsets,” he said.
“Inspired by the growing alarm of the rate of new HIV infections among young women, this campaign is bravely tackling the root of this problem — the lack of awareness of HIV prevention among hard-to-reach young men.”
He urged people to unite around the “smashing of a deadly stigma” surrounding HIV, “and calling out the prejudice that is still there.”
South African actress Charlize Theron agreed, while also raising a flag for women.
The epidemic is “not just about sex or sexuality,” she said. “We know it is linked to the second-class status of women and girls worldwide.”
Some 37 million people live with HIV today, with some 1.8 million new infections recorded last year.
UNAIDS estimates the global fight is short some $7 billion (six billion euros) per year.


India’s parliament passes citizenship law, protests flare

Updated 1 min 5 sec ago

India’s parliament passes citizenship law, protests flare

  • Police in Assam’s main city of Guwahati used water cannons and tear gas as they clashed with protesters
  • The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said on Monday that Washington should consider sanctions against Shah, a close associate of Modi

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling Hindu nationalist government on Wednesday won parliamentary approval for a far-reaching citizenship law that critics say undermines the country’s secular constitution, as protests against the legislation intensified.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015.
The bill passed the upper house of parliament with 125 members supporting it and 105 opposing.
The move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government faced stiff resistance from opposition parties, minority groups, and student bodies, with some calling it discriminatory against Muslims.
It is the third key election promise that Modi’s government has delivered since he was re-elected in May, re-energizing his nationalist, Hindu support base and drawing attention away from a slackening economy.
As the upper chamber debated the bill, demonstrations against it turned violent in the country’s ethnically diverse northeast.
Soldiers were deployed in Tripura state and reinforcements put on standby in neighboring Assam, both of which border Bangladesh.
Despite assurances from India’s Home Minister Amit Shah that safeguards will be put in place, people in Assam and surrounding states fear that an influx of settlers could lead to a competition for land and upset the region’s demographic balance.
Some opposition Muslim politicians have also argued that the bill targets their community, which numbers more than 170 million people and is by far India’s largest minority group.
The government has said the new law will be followed by a citizenship register which means Muslims will have to prove they were original residents of India and not refugees from these three countries, potentially rendering some of them stateless.
“NARROW-MINDED“
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said on Monday that Washington should consider sanctions against Shah, a close associate of Modi if India adopts the legislation.
“The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism,” said Sonia Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party.
Defending the bill in the upper house, Shah said the new law only sought to help minorities persecuted in Muslim-majority countries contiguous with India.
“Nobody is taking citizenship away from India’s Muslims. This is a bill to give citizenship, not take citizenship away,” Shah said.
In another move criticized by Muslims as discriminatory, the government scrapped the disputed Kashmir region’s autonomy.
Last month, the country’s supreme court also allowed the construction of a Hindu temple at a religious site in Northern India also claimed by Muslims.
A curfew has been imposed in Assam’s main city of Guwahati after police clashed with thousands of protesters, beating them back using water cannons and tear gas.
State authorities in Assam also blocked mobile Internet services in 10 districts, fearing further violence.
Protesters, many of them students, remained on the streets late into Wednesday evening, where bonfires were lit, public property vandalized and vehicles set on fire.
“The bill will take away our rights, language and culture with millions of Bangladeshis getting citizenship,” said Gitimoni Dutta, a college student at the protest.