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Vienna bids farewell to iconic Life Ball AIDS fundraiser

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Vienna (AFP)

The Austrian capital of Vienna will bid farewell to the iconic Life Ball AIDS charity fundraiser Saturday as its extravagant costumes and celebrity guests take over the city's town hall for the last time.

Launched by former make-up artist Gery Keszler, among others, the ball has raised around 30 million euros ($34 million) for anti-AIDS causes within Austria and abroad since its first edition in 1993, organisers say.

Keszler announced last month that this year's edition of the ball would be the last due to a lack of funding.

This year's motto is "United in Diversity", with costumes inspired by the worlds of magic and circus performers and the square in front of the town hall transformed into a fairground.

Austrian Eurovision winner and drag star Conchita Wurst will be one of the "ringmasters" of the evening, with the opening ceremony scheduled to begin at 9:30 pm (1930 GMT).

Among the stars walking down the red carpet will be actresses Lindsay Lohan, Katie Holmes and Kelly Osbourne.

In line with Vienna's more traditional balls, there will be 200 "debutantes", but in keeping with the commitment to diversity, the age limit was raised to 75.

Keszler said on Friday that he saw this year's event as "in some way a last testament."

"It takes me back to the first Life Ball and brings back a lot of emotion," he told the daily, Die Presse.

- Funding worries -

Rooted firmly in activism among Vienna's LGBT community, the Life Ball has become one of the world's biggest AIDS charity events over the past three decades, attracting up to 45,000 guests and on-lookers a year.

Regular tickets cost 180 euros, but tickets with red carpet and VIP access can go as high as 550 euros and 990 euros.

The Life Ball also became something of a jet-set fixture, with Elton John, Naomi Campbell and Vivienne Westwood just a few of the famous names to have attended over the years.

Organisers say the ball is no longer viable as, paradoxically, advances in treatment and prognosis for people with HIV and AIDS have meant fewer donors are willing to contribute to such causes.

Some of those who have benefitted from the funds raised by the ball in the past expressed their concerns over the impact of it ending.

The Aids Hilfe Wien association said it feared losing up to 200,000 euros a year which it uses to help HIV patients gain access to treatment.

However, Vienna city authorities haven't ruled out a possible revival of the Life Ball at some point in the future, possibly with different organisers.

This year the ball coincides with the 17-day EuroPride festival being held this year in Vienna, culminating in a huge Rainbow Parade in the city centre on June 15.

AIDS, or the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is the most advanced stage of infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which targets the immune system.

The World Health Organization estimated around 36.9 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2017, with 1.8 million people newly infected that year and 940,000 HIV-related deaths.

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