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Activism Changed Elton John. Then Elton John Changed the World

Elton John 4

John testifies at a U.S. Senate hearing

“We’re particularly proud of two important grants in North Carolina and Florida to help establish the very first legal syringe exchange programs in these states,” Campbell says.

In fact, EJAF is now the single largest private source of philanthropic funding for syringe exchanges in the entire country. As a primary partner of the Syringe Access Fund, the foundation, since 2005, has invested $5.89 million in 77 organizations to provide harm reduction services to people who use drugs. In 2016, programs directly supported by EJAF reached 57,000 people who inject drugs with at least 10 million syringes and other harm reduction services.

“This is a crucial moment for syringe access in the United States,” Campbell says. The number of people who get HIV through injection drug use has plummetted from 40,000 per year in the late 1980s to fewer than 4,000 people annually. But, now Campbell says, “Heroin use has more than doubled among young adults ages 18–25 in the past decade. Drug-related overdose deaths have also doubled during the past decade, with more than 60,000 Americans likely killed by drug overdose in 2016. This new generation of people who use drugs needs access to syringes and other harm reduction services.”

Despite overwhelming evidence that syringe access programs protect people against HIV without increasing the use of drugs, the U.S. government won’t fund needle exchanges. So EJAF does.

They have done so much, and yet John says, “We can all do more — and especially the richest countries in the world can and should do a great deal more, not only for their own people, but for people in need in the poorest countries. Most importantly,” John says, “we can simply stop stigmatizing and discriminating against people living with or perceived to be at risk for HIV/AIDS. It costs us nothing to simply love one another and tear down the barriers that keep people from seeking help.”

At 70, with two small kids, an AIDS foundation, and over 4,000 performances under his belt, why isn’t Sir Elton John more, well, exhausted?

“There is a kind of exhaustion that comes with extended periods of travel,” he admits, “but ultimately, music energizes me. What traveling the world has really reinforced in me is the emphatic belief that the vast majority of people are good folks who care for one another. When I look out over the thousands of people that attend my concerts… I see so much diversity brought together under one roof, people who may have completely opposite points of view, but they are all here enjoying the music — singing, dancing, being — together. That gives me hope!”


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