In EW’s column Act With Me, stars share their personal stories about giving back. This week, musician and activist Annie Lennox speaks about the SING campaign, which promotes awareness about HIV and AIDS, as well as raises funds to support grassroots organizations that offer care to those who suffer from the disease.
WHY I TOOK ACTION
Annie Lennox assumed the HIV/AIDS crisis was largely a thing of the past, a fight that primarily belonged to the 1980s and ’90s. That all changed with a 2003 trip to South Africa where she heard Nelson Mandela speak about the issue. “He described it as a genocide that was affecting women and children and mothers, and I thought there’s a great silence around this genocide because I didn’t know about it,” she remembers. Lennox spent part of that trip and subsequent visits seeing firsthand the continuing devastation of the virus, particularly its impact on mothers and children. “I saw a lot of incredibly shocking things, and when you see these things your whole paradigm is shifted, and you either decide to forget about or you decide you want to do something,” she says.
WHAT THE FOUNDATION DOES
Lennox founded the SING Campaign in 2007 to raise awareness about the continuing effects of the virus. “I decided to start to become an advocate and an activist, and I decided to raise funds, so I would go around the world giving concerts, raising funds to give to organizations at grassroots levels,” Lennox explains. Her work also includes working with the UN and various country’s governments to provide aid, raise awareness, and combat the virus. The SING campaign’s funds largely go to organizations that work to educate individuals about preventing and transmitting the disease to children and others. “I thought at the beginning of life when a mother delivers a baby and she’s HIV positive, what you want to see is the baby is HIV negative and the mother goes on treatment so she can live and have a healthy life,” explains Lennox. “So if she has other children she can be alive to bring her children up. I would think that is a sort of fundamental human right. That’s the way I see it, and that is why I founded the SING campaign way back in the day in 2007 and so, wherever I go, wherever I’m raising money, I’m talking to you — this is part of the SING campaign.”
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
One of the challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDS is reminding the public that it’s still an urgent issue in many parts of the world. “What we really want to do is prevent people from becoming infected with HIV in the first place,” says Lennox. “We have treatment and it works, but what we don’t have is a vaccine to prevent people from having the virus and we don’t have a cure, so we’re kind of in a strange limbo state in a funny sort of way.” Lennox says the strides the world has made against the virus have actually made the need for awareness even more vital. “It’s actually easier to campaign when the crisis has come to a terrible boiling point. You used to have millions and millions of people dying very visually,” she says. “People were dying in the thousands every day and that was before people could get access to treatment. Now it’s a different situation and you almost would think that HIV and AIDS has gone away, but that’s not the case, there’s still a great deal to be done.”
For Lennox, part of the struggle is reminding people about the crisis beyond the spotlight of World AIDS Day and supporting organizations that are on the ground year-round. “They are doing it 365 days a year,” she says. “They are working hard to try to keep people’s interest and investment in this issue. If they were to pull out, you would suddenly see mortality rates going right back up again and it’s a crisis that people get used to.”
The campaign began with a song about HIV on Lennox’s 2007 album Songs of Mass Destruction that featured the voices of numerous female artists. Lennox says she named the campaign SING because of her desire to fight the stigma around the disease that often prevents people from seeking treatment. “It’s about singing out,” she says. “It’s also about coming out against stigma and silence and shame.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
“Get tested,” Lennox says. “Know your HIV status — it doesn’t matter who you are, how wealthy you are, how [much] safe sex you think you’ve had.” More than monetary donations, Lennox says fighting the taboo of discussing the virus and being tested is crucial for eradicating it worldwide.