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Thursday, September 21, 2023

The HIV fight is growing old

Few organizations know this better than the Austrian charity Diversity Care Vienna. Since its founding in 1999, the unassuming NGO — which provides home nursing to AIDS patients in Vienna — could count on a donation of around €100,000 a year via Austria’s Life Ball, a glitzy, raunchy gala to raise cash for the fight against HIV. It was, until recently, the biggest charity event for the cause in Europe. Bill Clinton was a regular, as were Elton John and designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood.

Yet in 2016, the check dropped to €75,000. In 2017, it was down to €50,000, and then €25,000 in 2018. That turned out to be its parting gift. Last year, Life Ball’s organizers announced that 2019 would be the final party, after 26 years, leaving Diversity Care deep in the red, hanging on largely thanks to the help from the city.

“AIDS has changed from a death sentence to being a chronic disease,” said Life Ball founder Gery Keszler, explaining his decision to shut it down last year. “The paradox of this success is that the number of allies for AIDS charity projects is decreasing both at home and abroad.”

Diversity Care’s travails are representative of the new challenge facing organizations around the world fighting AIDS.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria estimates a 30 percent shortfall in what’s needed to respond to HIV in poor countries this year — not even taking into account COVID-19, which is straining national budgets.

Donations for the global fight against HIV from wealthy countries were down $200 million in 2019 compared to the previous year, and cash from rich countries other than the U.S. has been slumping ever since it peaked in 2014.

And it’s not just money, but activism, too. Red ribbons — the symbol of the fight against AIDS — are at risk of becoming passé, as a younger generation devotes itself to green issues and Black Lives Matter.

“Fundamentally, it’s just not as sexy,” said Robin Gorna, a longtime AIDS activist whose career evolved from protesting on the streets of London in the 1980s to running the International AIDS Society in 2010.

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