The Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) has worked with HIV/AIDS organizations around the world to help deliver quality health services to vulnerable communities since 1992. The coronavirus pandemic poses new challenges for communities battling HIV, prompting the Foundation to launch its COVID-19 Emergency Fund.
“Essentially we’re trying to do two things,” said Anne Aslett, CEO of EJAF. “One is to provide immediate support to enable organizations to continue to function,” including accessing protective equipment and medical supplies. “The second objective is helping organizations think through how they might mitigate the impact of COVID on the work they’re doing for the populations they serve.
“Things like, ‘How do we take away the face-to-face interaction? Can we move those services online? Can we set up virtual appointment systems or virtual counselling?’”
A global impact
EJAF works primarily with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, central Asia, eastern Europe, and North America, specifically in communities where access to healthcare is limited. COVID-19 has placed further stress on already-vulnerable communities.
“In countries in the global South, their health systems are often very weak anyway,” Aslett said, “so when you bring in an infectious disease like COVID, it can cripple the health system.”
As COVID-19 becomes the health system’s priority, treatment for other infectious diseases can get neglected.
“Attention gets drawn away from some of the big killers like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV,” Aslett said.
In many of the communities where EJAF works, social distancing is also difficult.
“Many people live in townships and slums where it’s very crowded. There’s no possibility to isolate and protect yourself, no easy access to soap and water, so that obviously creates huge weaknesses,” Aslett said.
Many of the applications EJAF has funded directly address this challenge.
“Things like a mobile van that can come to people’s houses, or to communities that prevent them from having to travel and potentially spread the disease or be exposed to it,” Aslett said.
Applications have closed for the first round of EJAF’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund but a second is set to be released soon.
“We wanted to provide money now, so we’ve dispersed just under $1 million” Aslett said, “and been extremely fortunate to receive a donation from Jack Dorsey, which doubled the fund. We’ll do another wave around the end of June to see how people’s thinking has evolved.
“By then, organizations may have decided there’s actually a better, cheaper, or more sustainable solution to some of their problems, or perhaps some of those issues are now being covered by bigger multilateral funds and they have specific niche problems they’re never going to get money for from those funders, and the foundation might be able to help.”
Aslett said one of the EJAF’s highest priorities is ensuring HIV/AIDS care is available everywhere.
“Nothing we do is unilateral or on our own,” she said. “We always want to make sure we are complementing what other people are doing; that we’re filling gaps that haven’t otherwise been identified.”
“Convening is a big part of what the foundation does, so we’re aiming to pull together MAC AIDS Fund and Gilead and ViiV Healthcare, and some of the other HIV funders who’ve also brilliantly launched COVID-19 funds to make sure we share information about the kinds of requests we’re being asked for and what the emerging trends are. Also, to make sure that we’re not just responding to a group of sophisticated organizations that are very quick off the mark at applications, that we’re not leaving any gaps. That’s a real mantra of the foundation, not leaving anyone behind.”
To learn more, visit www.ejaf.org.