WASHINGTON, May 6 (UPI) -- Music legend Elton John said stigma is the biggest barrier between a person infected with HIV/AIDS and treatment, urging congressional leaders to shore up their fight against the disease.
John asked a Senate appropriations subcommittee to continue its funding of programs aimed at ending AIDS and "change the course of history."
"This is the most powerful legislative body in the world, and this Congress has the power to end AIDS," he said Wednesday. "You have the power to maintain America's historical commitment to leading the global campaign against this disease. I'm here today to ask you to use that power."
The British Grammy winner was the star on a panel of four that focused on the United States' global health programs. John, a longtime AIDS activist and LGBT advocate, was invited to testify at the hearing held by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who also held a reception for the singer on Tuesday night.
John told the panel that the stigma of the disease forces some in African societies, particularly in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, to go underground, avoiding much-needed medications. He said that fear has carried into the United States, particularly into 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.
He urged greater compassion in the world, crediting Pope Francis as a leader.
"If Christ was alive today, and I believe in Christ, he would be appalled at the way people are being stigmatized," he said.
John delivered his remarks wearing pink sunglasses one day after the GOP passed a budget that includes billions in cuts to federal programs. He said any cuts to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, enacted under the Bush administration, could disrupt the global fight against HIV.