In 1987, a photograph of Princess Diana shaking the hand of a man with AIDS helped to break down stigma around the illness. Nearly 30 years later, Prince Harry is highlighting the need to continue fighting the stigma persisting around today’s AIDS epidemic, particularly among teenagers.
Prince Harry joined Sir Elton John on stage Thursday at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, and praised the work of leaders including Nelson Mandela and his own mother, for the fight against the disease.
“When my mother held the hand of a man dying of AIDS in East London hospital, no one would have imagined that just over a quarter of a century later, treatment would exist that could see HIV-positive people live full, healthy loving lives,” he said.
But he warned that many are winding down the battle too soon. “We now face a new risk, a risk of complacency,” he said.
His words echo the same concern presented by other world leaders, activists and scientists throughout the conference as international funding for research and development has dropped along with funds for treatment and prevention programs.
But the prince particularly fears for the future of the epidemic among adolescents — aged 10 to 19 — for whom AIDS is currently the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, and the second leading cause of death globally.
His own charity, Sentebale, founded in partnership with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, has been working to improve and support the lives of children affected by HIV in Lesotho since 2009 and recently began working in Botswana.
“Children living with HIV grapple with severe medical, emotional and social challenges all at once,” the prince said, adding “It is all too common for a 12-year-old boy or girl to be forced out to work so they can provide for their brothers and sisters having lost one or two parent to AIDS.”
He spoke of his own insights from working in Lesotho and the difference he has witnessed first-hand from helping children feel supported. The prince went on to declare it was now time for everyone to “step up” and address the problems that fuel and result from today’s epidemic.
In 2014, an estimated 2 million adolescents between the age of 10 and 19 were living with HIV worldwide. Deaths relating to AIDS among adolescents have tripled since 2000, while going down in all other age groups.
The prince voiced that young people worldwide need to be educated and empowered to take control of their health, and that society needs to change to get rid of the stigma circling the disease today.
His passion to end the AIDS epidemic was praised by Sir Elton John who, in his own speech, said he could not relate to teenagers in the way Harry can and praised him for following his mother’s determination to “make the world a better place.”
UNAIDS have set the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, but many in the field feel this may not be achieved. The prince thinks young people can make it happen.
“In helping young people to fight HIV, we will not just be ending his epidemic,” he said. “We’ll be changing the direction of history for an entire generation.”