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
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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.


British lawmaker calls for Asma Assad to be stripped of British citizenship 

Updated 20 February 2019
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British lawmaker calls for Asma Assad to be stripped of British citizenship 

  • The MP of the Liberal Democrats, Tom Brake, wrote to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, urging her to use her powers to deny Asma Assad of her citizenship
  • Asma used social media to support her husband’s leadership after a global condemnation of his alleged role in a chemical weapons attack on civilians

A prominent British politician has called for Asma Assad, the British wife of the Syrian President, Bashar Assad, to be stripped of her UK citizenship. 

The foreign affairs spokesman of the centrist party, the Liberal Democrats, Tom Brake, wrote to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, urging her to use her powers to deny Asma Assad of her citizenship after her social media posts in support of her husband’s regime.

 “The first lady of Syria has acted not as a private citizen but as a spokesperson for the Syrian presidency... Boris Johnson has urged other countries to do more about Syria, but the British government could say to Asma Assad, either stop using your position to defend barbaric acts, or be stripped of your citizenship,” Brake was cited by British daily the Guardian as saying.  

Asma used social media to support her husband’s leadership after a global condemnation of his alleged role in a chemical weapons attack on civilians.

She posted a message saying: “The presidency of the Syrian Arab Republic affirms that what America has done is an irresponsible act that only reflects a short-sightedness, a narrow horizon, a political and military blindness to reality and a naive pursuit of a frenzied false propaganda campaign.”

Conservative MP, Nadhim Zahawi, also joined the call to revoke her British nationality, calling Asma “very much part of the propaganda machine that is committing war crimes.”

Asma was born and raised in London to Syrian parents and left the UK in 2000 to live in Syria where she married Assad.