LONDON (AP) — Elton John has urged British lawmakers to do more to fight HIV and AIDS, saying the U.K. can be the first country in the world “to defeat this awful virus.”
The British star spoke to lawmakers and campaigners in the grand Speaker’s House of Parliament on Wednesday evening at an event honoring his dedication to fighting HIV in the U.K. and beyond.
"I implore you not to waste your allotted time as political leaders,” John urged dozens of lawmakers packed into the ornate gold-trimmed room. “Take action and push things a little further than might feel comfortable. And as you do, I can promise you this: I will be there with you."
John set up his AIDS Foundation in 1992 and has helped raise millions of dollars to prevent HIV infections and reduce stigma.
"This evening I was privileged to welcome Sir Elton John and acknowledge his exceptional contribution to the global fight against HIV and AIDS — personally and through the Elton John AIDS Foundation,” Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said on X, formerly Twitter.
“His work embodies the solidarity and kindness that defines our shared humanity," he added.
John welcomed the “truly wonderful news” that the U.K. government has decided to extend a pilot program to test people visiting hospital emergency rooms for HIV, which officials say has discovered hundreds of undetected cases of the virus.
Under the program, which was recently introduced in London and other cities with a high prevalence of HIV cases, anyone 16 years old or older who has their blood tested in an emergency room will also get tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, unless they opt out of the testing.
“Automatic testing gets to people earlier, which means less HIV transmission, less illness, less death and by the estimate of health economists, 50 million pounds ($63 million) saved for the NHS,” Britain's health service, John said.
Health officials confirmed that the program would be scaled up to 46 more emergency departments across England, helping reach the estimated 4,500 people in England who could be living with undiagnosed HIV.
The Parliament reception for John came ahead of World AIDS Day, which takes place on Friday. The U.K. hopes to achieve zero HIV transmissions in England by 2030, in line with World Health Organization goals.
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also paid tribute to John's AIDS Foundation, saying he was pleased its work was being celebrated in Parliament.
“Sir Elton has been a powerful voice for change in the U.K. and the world,” Sunak told lawmakers. “Through the brilliant work of the AIDS Foundation he has raised awareness of the issue, reduced stigma and saved lives.”
Sylvia Hui, The Associated Press