The German AIDS Foundation was created in 1987 to help people tested HIV-positive and suffering from AIDS. It is the largest private AIDS foundation in Germany and finances various national and international projects to help people who are affected lead an independent and socially accepted life.
Kristel Degener, the new chairperson of the board, works to promote AIDS prevention and how the issue is presented to the public. She told Deutsche Welle how the Bonn Opera Gala is bound to help.
DW: The opera gala events in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Bonn are major sources of income for the foundation. Last year, the charity gala in Bonn alone netted a record €230,000 ($258,000). What projects do you plan to support with the proceeds from this year's event in Bonn?
Kristel Degener: What is special is that we support local projects in Bonn and North Rhine-Westphalia as well as an international project in Mozambique. The local focus is primarily on prevention work in schools, and a project for people from migrant families. On the international scene, we are very active in South Africa and Mozambique, and the Bonn Gala is raising money specifically for our project in Mozambique.
Your work in Mozambique goes beyond supporting people suffering from HIV/AIDS, right?
Mozambique was hit by a cyclone a few weeks ago. We are currently rebuilding the two health centers we have in the port city of Beira, where the cyclone caused great damage. Since our health centers border the townships, people who lost their homes came to the health centers — they still functioned reasonably well despite the damage. We provided the people with food and clean water. We quickly resumed HIV care because it is important that there are no interruptions so as not to compromise the effect.
You just held your 10th opera gala in Düsseldorf, and are about to host the eighth opera gala event in Bonn. What does working together for a good cause with artists and musicians mean to you?
It is incredibly important. We couldn't hold such a charity gala without the musicians and singers, who are all very well known and popular and perform here for free. That's how we can draw attention to the problem and the illness.
Opera seems to be a popular choice for charity events. Have you ever considered a rock concert for the good cause, in view of the box office success of Bohemian Rhapsody, the film drama about Queen lead singer Freddy Mercury, who suffered from AIDS?
Opera is part of our history. We held the first opera gala 26 years ago in Berlin, and then we started having them in Düsseldorf and Bonn, too. Of course, an opera audience isn't huge, and when we say we want to boost communication and information on prevention, it's important to address young people as well — and they do not necessarily go to the opera. That is why we need to develop other formats.
Any ideas so far?
Dresden, for instance, has a gala specifically for our HOPE Foundation in South Africa, and it is structured quite differently, with a mix of rock and classical music. I could imagine that works in other cities, too. Our Bonn event this year also features a guitarist and dancers, so there are not just opera arias. On the other hand, what makes an opera gala so special are these grand voices and the festive mood.
When you took over the chair last year, you said you wanted to draw more attention to the cause of HIV/AIDS. Are people forgetting about it?
The first HIV and AIDS cases happened so long ago that the younger generation has no memory of them. You have to keep on telling people what the illness means, what the symptoms are. Medicine may be advanced, but HIV is still incurable! Despite the drugs, the virus can not be eradicated from the body.
We want to help prevent new infections by giving information. Just this year, we started to support new projects, and opera gala proceeds are expected to help. Along with the Brost Foundation, we are now cooperating with the "Youth against Aids" organization — sexual education by young people for young people. In Germany the number of new infections is dwindling, but there were still about 2,700 cases last year. Every infection is one too many.
What is the situation in African countries?
Of course, things are quite different there. The percentage of adults with HIV and AIDS is very frightening: Almost 19% of the people in South Africa and more than 12% in Mozambique are HIV positive, and there are hundreds of thousands of new infections every year.
What is focus of the projects you are supporting in Mozambique?
We support the Dream projects, in particular helping inform and care for HIV-positive pregnant women, to make sure they are treated and that their babies are born healthy. From a medical point of view, that is no problem. You just have to make sure the women come to the health centers, which is why we work with local people. Our health centers are really successful: 98 of 100 babies are born healthy.
As a media partner, Deutsche Welle will broadcast the opera gala live and in German on the Internet on May 11 from 7 p.m. at http://dw.com/kultur. The German Aids Foundation will be broadcasting the audio program at: http://aids.st/bn19.