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His last performances showcase a voice even bigger than his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah sings his tired heart out, turning casino into temple. -- Bono, in a tribute to Elvis Presley, 2004

Bono on World AIDS Day 2002

BBC Radio 1

U2's front man, Bono, talked to One Life for this year's World AIDS Day, which is held on 1st December every year, worldwide. Bono's campaign for greater AIDS awareness is all year round -- find out why in our interview below.

One Life: Why did you get involved with the campaign to highlight HIV/AIDS?

Bono: I've been involved in African issues for a long time, going back to Feed the World, and Live Aid -- we raised a lot of money with Live Aid. The famine in Ethiopia was an extraordinary thing to witness first hand. I worked in a camp there in the mid '80s and saw what famine can do.

The AIDS emergency is dwarfing any of the famines that are raising their head again. The problem with AIDS is that it sets back all the work you do in the area of development in these countries. If you care about Africa -- this incredible continent, with such rare beauty and rare spirited people, you have to deal with the problem of AIDS -- there's no way round it.

When the history of our time is written, there'll probably be three things that come out of it -- the internet, this war against terror, and the fact that an entire continent burst into flames while we all stood around with watering cans. You cannot ignore the AIDS emergency -- if we do it will be at our peril, economically, in terms of stability and this problem will come home to visit us.

One Life: Why is it difficult to get people to take AIDS seriously in Africa?

Bono: In Southern and South Africa you have a few difficulties getting people to admit they have a problem. [Politicians] fear there'll be a loss of investment [in the economy] and sometimes they have religious difficulties. Also they don't have the resources to deal with the problem if people admit to it, so it's doubly hard. AIDS is not a death sentence in the U.K. We have drugs.

The politicians also tell us it's too difficult to get these drugs to everywhere in Africa, yet we can get cold, fizzy drinks!

The drug regimens necessary to deal with AIDS are a lot simpler now. And if the political will is there, and the cash is there, we can get them to the people in Africa. That will encourage Africans to come out more and accept that they have a problem.

One Life: How important do you think stigma or prejudice is in the fight against HIV and AIDS?

Bono: You have the problem of stigmatisation. If people don't want to admit to having it, what's the point in admitting that you have it if you can't get drugs to keep it at bay? If you don't admit to having it and you're not having the right advice about how to deal with your situation the disease spreads. This is why it's really important that we deal with the situation the right way.

I met a king from the Ashanti region in Ghana -- I was making a speech in the town hall. The king arrived, and everyone was honoured that he was there. He told the assembled people that he can just taken an HIV test, and that he was worried himself that he might have the disease. He felt that this was his greatest contribution -- to bring it out in the open and say this is a problem we're all having, so let's get tested. This job of dealing with the stigmatisation of the disease would be a lot easier if we could get treatment for people once they come out and admit they have it.

One Life: How can we help in the fight to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS?

Bono: It is worth remembering that [HIV/AIDS] is a disease you don't have to catch. Prevention really works and it's a smart use of money. You have to have prevention and treatment. Just delaying the age of sexual activity -- that really, really helps. In South Africa they're noticing a decrease in numbers in young people they're getting the message of prevention out. It's very important to get more involvment from role models to talk about it in Africa -- musicians in Africa, sports people.

This particular World AIDS Day is crucial. If countries get to grip with their problems early on, they won't end up like Botswana or Uganda, where 20% of their urban population is HIV and sometimes more.

Imagine walking through Piccadilly Circus [in London] and the crowds of people and thinking that nearly a third of the people in this square have a death sentence on their heads -- that's what it's like in some of the urban places in Africa.

It grows out of control quickly, so you've got to get there sooner rather than later.

One Life: What is being achieved at the moment to raise AIDS awareness?

Bono: There's an amazing campaign going on in the U.K., the Stop AIDS campaign, and they're asking Tony Blair for $1million -- they're a coalition of all sorts of groups -- Save the Children, Oxfam etc. Their line is that the world can afford to stop AIDS, but the world cannot afford not to. Right now there's talk of war on Iraq -- it's crucial that the U.K. and U.S. are reaching out to Africa -- Africa's 40% Muslim. The War Against Terror is actually bound up in the war against poverty -- Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State said that.

All the military men know you can't win this war by military means alone. Anyone who's concerned, not just for what's going on in Africa, but for what's happening [worldwide] and for the instability that we see in the news, should be involved in this. It's an opportunity to show off the innovations of the pharmaceuticals in the U.K. and U.S. -- to show their creativity. These drugs should be advertisements for what we can do in the West.

It's not just hearts and minds. If you're saving lives, the life of a child, of a woman's husband, of her children, of herself, there's no chance for extremist groups to be given sanctuary in a community where this is happening -- that's a fact of life -- it's cheap at the price really. As expensive as it is to tackle this problem, it is much more expensive to deal with the instability in the world, where if we're honest, the West is not seen as a particularly beneficial force in the developing world -- that's just a hard fact.

One Life: How important is money to the issue of AIDS?

Bono: The thing with AIDS is that it's an emergency you can actually deal with. I have seen what happens in countries like Uganda, who spent all their debt money on education and dealing with AIDS -- there have been incredible results turning back the tide of AIDS there! And nearly three times as many children are going to school. So it's not a lost cause. Africa's beautiful and full of gifted people. Right now they need us to gather round them and they'll do the rest of the work.

I'm spending most of my time in America on this, and we're getting a good reception. The finance minister of America and I went to Africa together. He wanted to go to factories to see how investment's important in Africa and I wanted to show him what happens when you don't invest in Aid. I've met with Bush and Colin Powell and every other politician I could find -- we're ganging up on the politicians on this one.

One Life: What other issues are there in the struggle against HIV and AIDS?

Bono: I think there are three things to keep in mind when you look at the HIV problem. 1) Realise that we cannot -- after September 11th, 2001 -- think that we can live in a glass case, we the prosperous few, away from the wretched poor of this world. What's going on in Africa affects what's going on in the U.K. 2) This is our moment -- we can demand that the politicians respond and that the scale of the response matches the scale of the emergency. 3) Remember that it's not all black -- science is on our side, there's a drug that stops the transmission from woman to her child which costs nothing. There will eventually be a vaccine, so this is the moment right now, and if we get to it, we'll see a real turning around of the problem.

One Life: How can young people in the U.K. get involved?

Bono: This is really important stuff -- anyone listening who's interested, check out Radio 1 online and click on One Life. You can also email Tony Blair through the Stop AIDS Campaign web site -- I like the idea of him getting hundreds of thousands of emails on this. I think Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Claire Short are interested in these issues, we just have to convince them how interested the people who voted them in to office are, and I've no doubt on that myself but they have -- so please, please get involved.

One Life: What were the most memorable things that happened to you on your recent trips to Africa this year?

Bono: I ended up seeing things which I never want anyone to see again. I was at a hospital in Malawi where people were queuing up to die, three to a bed. People with all of their dignity, all of their humanity stripped of them for the stupidest problems -- money. The hospital hardly had clean water -- it was ridiculous to expect nurses and doctors to try and get to grips with the emergency without enough help.

I remember in South Africa meeting a beautiful-looking 25-year-old man, who loves the U.K. music scene and loves life, talking about how he was given the drugs which kept him alive. He said, "If you had seen me a year ago, I was half this weight; I had scratching all over my body from the itching you get. And I looked like I was in a horror movie. I am so grateful for the drugs -- they've made a huge difference." But then he said, "I lost my wife. She didn't get the drugs in time. She died. I have two children and a new love in my life. She's HIV positive too, so now I have this choice -- what do I do? Do I give her my drugs so she stays alive and my kids lose their last parent? Do I keep those drugs and watch my love die. Or do I share the drugs so we both die?"

This is something we should never have to let anyone ask themselves. He was just such a cool guy. When he told me this story I felt so ashamed to be in a world which had the medicine and was not sharing it out.

The closest analogy we can get to the AIDS emergency is the Black Death, where Europe lost a third of its population in the middle ages. Imagine if China had the drugs and technology to deal with the problem but hadn't shared it because it was too expensive. Imagine how history would look at China. That's where we and America are at the moment. We have the drugs but we're not sharing them.

I believe history and God will be our judge on this one.

BBC, 2002.