UK expands HIV screening programme as Elton John addresses lawmakers

LONDON (Reuters) – Singer Elton John addressed British lawmakers on Wednesday as the government announced plans to expand an HIV testing programme as part of its aim to end new transmissions of the virus in England by 2030.

John, 76, one of the biggest selling artists of all time, spoke at a private reception in the Houses of Parliament to honour his work in the fight against HIV and Aids as part of celebrations ahead of World Aids Day on Friday.

The BBC reported he would urge ministers to do more to ensure new cases of HIV are eliminated.

The British government said it planned to roll out to 46 further locations a screening programme, initiated by the Elton John Aids Foundation, under which people having blood tests in some English hospitals are tested for HIV unless they opt out.

“The more people we can diagnose, the more chance we have of ending new transmissions of the virus and the stigma wrongly attached to it,” health minister Victoria Atkins said.

The government said the existing programme in high prevalence areas had been highly effective in identifying HIV in people unaware they had the virus. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak praised John’s role in helping fight AIDS during his weekly Prime Ministers Questions slot, saying he had been “a powerful voice for change in the UK and in the world”.

“Through the brilliant work of his foundation he has raised awareness of HIV, reduced stigma, and saved lives,” Sunak said of the singer.

(Reporting by Sarah Young, Muvija M and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Sandra Maler)