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Elton John: Congress can end AIDS

Elton John: Congress can end AIDS
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Grammy-winning legend Elton John is urging Congress to strengthen its fight against HIV to help end AIDS within his lifetime and “change the course of history.”

“This Congress indeed has the power to end AIDS,” John told a Senate appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday. “I am here today to ask you to use that power.”

The British songwriter was the star of a panel on Wednesday that focused on the United States’s global health programs.

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John repeatedly praised programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which he said has halted the trajectory of the epidemic. But he said the nation’s work against the disease is not over.

“There is a window of opportunity before us — a window through which we can very clearly see the end of AIDS — within my lifetime,” he said. "We cannot afford to let that window close."

He also warned that if Congress allows its efforts to flag, the disease will “once again become a ruthless pandemic with disastrous and far-reaching consequences.”

John was invited to testify at a hearing held by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGrassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees Popular bill to fight drug prices left out of budget deal Judiciary Dems want public hearings with Kushner, Trump Jr. MORE (D-Vt.) — both of whom also held a reception for the singer on Tuesday night.

U2’s Bono, who suffered serious injuries in a bike accident last year, had also planned to attend the hearing, Graham said.

“I would like to mention that Bono cannot be here today,” Graham announced at the hearing. “He’s communicated to me many times about wanting to be here.”

John also stressed that countries like the U.S. should be doing more to protect people with AIDS from stigmatization — particularly if they are gay.

"We are seeing, especially in African countries, the LGBT community suffering under draconian laws," he said. "People saying homosexuality is a sin, they’re making the disease worse."

That problem also carries into the U.S., he said, particularly among young gay men in the rural South.

"There's still a lot of fear, even in a country so sophisticated as the U.S. or my country, Britain," he said.

John, who is a longtime LGBT advocate, delivered his remarks wearing pink sunglasses before several Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage and have voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2013, as Graham did.

John appeared before the appropriations panel one day after the GOP passed a budget that promises to cut billions of dollars from funding to federal programs. He told Congress that any cuts to the Bush administration's PEPFAR initiative could massively disrupt the global fight against HIV.

"We have to maintain the funding. That is the biggest thing," he said. "If they do [make cuts], it's going to be a complete disaster. We're going to go back to square one."

— This report was updated at 11:22 a.m.