Elton John Continues the Fight Against AIDS in Africa and Beyond

Unlike many of its larger counterparts, the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) isn’t endowed. The $350 million it has raised since it started a quarter-century ago comes from individual donations and charity events, and its founder’s international celebrity is what makes all that possible. EJAF's most recent set of grants supports the fight against AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.

All too often, diseases on their way out in the developed world remain very dangerous in poorer countries where health infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle them. And even in richer countries, HIV/AIDS is still a major problem among marginalized populations. EJAF, for one, hasn’t looked away. Its global health giving targets grassroots nonprofits and favors innovative ideas.

We’ve covered how EJAF sticks with its core issue despite decreasing alarm about the disease and a sense that the AIDS crisis is something that happened “in the past.” Elton John has repeatedly called for the LGBTQ community to refocus on the issue, especially since HIV infection is still quite prevalent in the U.S. and the U.K. Of course, while John himself doesn't suffer from the disease, it is of deep personal significance to him, a fact reflected in EJAF’s leadership. The singer’s husband, David Furnish, is chairman of the board.

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The rock legend's foundation announced this summer’s grants at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, late last month. It's part of a collaboration with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a federal government program to fight HIV/AIDS outside the United States. PEPFAR got its start in 2003 under President Bush; in 2009, the Obama administration included PEPFAR as a central piece of its Global Health Initiative.

In 2014, Elton John worked with PEPFAR on a $7 million public-private partnership to extend access to HIV-related services to men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people in South Africa.

The latest fruit of this collaboration is a new $10 million LGBT Fund to expand healthcare for the developing world’s stigmatized queer population and to combat the discrimination and violence many confront. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance and the Global Forum on MSM & HIV are the first two organizations to receive funding. The geographical scope of work includes sites in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.

Back in 2013, we discussed how EJAF kept international AIDS funds flowing despite a drop during the world economy’s creaky post-2008 recovery. As its name hints, Sir Elton John’s star power is one big reason for EJAF’s fundraising success. Through recurring charity events, well financed by their celebrity attendees, the organization keeps its coffers healthy and its grantmaking steady.

That’s not to say celebrity giving is of a lesser order, or that EJAF’s budget comes solely from these sources. In fact, the way Elton John brings his fame to bear on a long-term cause is a model other charity-minded celebrities might do well to follow.

In any case, EJAF is a source of steady AIDS funding in a world of ups and downs. Recent trends in the space have money coming in from Gates and Ford, among others, and AmfAR is investing $100 million to find a cure by 2020. Johnson & Johnson and Gates are among the big funders also collaborating with PEPFAR to reduce the cost of HIV/AIDS drugs and health solutions.

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