03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

As HIV/AIDS Public Interest Wanes, Elton John AIDS Foundation Work Becomes More Urgent

Two weeks ago, President Obama signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. This crucial measure ensures that half a million Americans living with HIV will continue to receive the care they desperately need. But much work remains in the battle against AIDS in America.

We've made great strides in treating and preventing AIDS since Elton John founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) in 1992. New cases of HIV in the United States have declined dramatically, from 150,000 per year in the mid-1980s, to 56,000 per year in this decade. This is a direct result of effective intervention and preventative measures spearheaded and funded not only by the government, but also by countless nonprofit organizations across the nation, including EJAF.

Despite the progress of recent years, however, there have been several troubling developments. Revised statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control show the AIDS epidemic to be worse than previously thought. At the same time, fewer and fewer Americans identify AIDS as a public health priority. In fact, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only six percent of Americans believe AIDS is the most urgent health problem facing the nation, a decline from 17 percent just three years ago. Similarly, domestic HIV/AIDS prevention funding has plummeted by 20 percent since 2002.

It's safe to say that we are still dealing with the same problems, the same prejudices, and the same roadblocks that stymied efforts to engage the epidemic aggressively in the early 80s.

That's why the work of EJAF -- and the organizations we support -- continues to be so critical. Elton is proud that his foundation is today one of the largest AIDS grant-making organizations. Since its inception, EJAF has raised more than $150 million to support HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs in 55 countries around the globe. And despite the challenging economic climate, EJAF remains a steady source of support for HIV/AIDS programming, through both core partnerships and direct grants.

Over the years, our work in the United States has evolved to meet new and ever-changing challenges. But two priorities have remained the same.

First, we have never forgotten that the fight against AIDS is a cooperative effort. That's why we work with so many dedicated and determined organizations at both the national and local level -- including the National AIDS Fund, Kaiser Family Foundation, Ford Foundation, MAC AIDS Fund, and other grant-makers -- to support cutting-edge, community-centered work. We're proud of EJAF's track record of developing extremely productive partnerships.

Second, EJAF continues to focus our efforts on the underserved, the isolated, and the forgotten. For instance, AIDS is now one of the leading causes of death among young African American women, and rates of incidence are dramatically higher in the African American community and impoverished towns in the South. EJAF has prioritized grant making to organizations that serve these populations. And we continue to proudly support counseling, treatment, and prevention services for sex workers, the prison population, men who have sex with men, and those living in extreme poverty. These are the populations where AIDS has hit the hardest, where we have the most progress to make, and where we can really make a difference.

We must continue our efforts to fight the HIV virus. But we must also continue to fight the equally dangerous, infectious, and deadly epidemic of apathy. No one should be denied access to treatment, prevention, or medical care because of her or his socioeconomic status or lifestyle. So long as there are vast, underserved populations of HIV-positive Americans, EJAF will work with courageous organizations that provide lifesaving care to those in need.

Under the leadership of President Obama, the US government has demonstrated a renewed and serious commitment to addressing the root causes of the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic. Let's keep the progress going. EJAF is committed to doing its part; hopefully, Washington is, too.