Complacency threatens to halt progress in the fight against HIV, but through his charity Sentebale, Prince Harry is encouraging a new generation to take up the mantle.
“When my mother held the hand of a man dying of AIDS in an 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,” says Prince Harry.
The prince has continued his mother’s work by setting up the charity, Sentebale, in 2006, with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, to support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people affected by HIV in southern Africa.
A quarter of a century since his mother’s pioneering work began, thanks to the work of Sentebale and other organisations tackling HIV-related stigma and discrimination, the virus is no longer the death sentence it once was. However, that does not mean the HIV/AIDS community’s work is done – far from it.
In the UK, infection rates are still rising in some groups.
Complacency threatens progress
“We now face a new risk – the risk of complacency,” says Prince Harry.
“As people with HIV live longer, AIDS is a topic that has drifted from the headlines. And with that drift of attention, we risk a real drift of funding and of action to beat the virus.”
The facts speak for themselves. HIV remains a leading cause of death for adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa and, within the UK, infection rates continue to rise in some groups despite the availability of instant testing and universal access to treatment. The fear of discrimination continues to deter people from testing for HIV and seeking life-saving treatment.
Prince Harry, with youth advocate Tlotlo and Professor Peter Piot, Director of LSHTM, in July 2017. Photo © Chris Jackson/Getty
Empowering a new generation
If we are to maintain positive momentum and push forward to an AIDS-free future, Sentebale’s co-founding patron, Prince Harry, believes we need to listen much more closely to young people living with HIV.
“What I believe is that we cannot beat HIV without giving young people in every country the voice they deserve. Without education and without empowerment, HIV will win,” he says.
Focussing on physical effects isn’t enough; wider social and emotional needs are often overlooked.
This approach is one the prince has championed through Sentebale. Research shows that young people in southern Africa, who are in need of support for HIV, not only face many barriers in their quest to access care, but that their wider social and emotional needs are often overlooked in the process.
“We knew that just focussing on the physical effects of the disease wasn’t enough. I’ve seen first-hand the amazing progress that has been made in treating the physical and mental effects of HIV,” he explains. “Seeing young people who have so little, yet who work so hard to support their friends and educate their families about HIV, continues to inspire all of us at Sentebale. They are why I care so much about this fight.”
Earlier this year, Sentebale launched ‘Let Youth Lead.’ This is an advocacy programme to give young people in southern Africa, who are affected by HIV, a platform to voice their challenges and engage policymakers to drive positive change in HIV interventions that better support their generation.
Prince Harry, with youth advocates at Sentebale’s Let Youth Lead Roundtable at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Photo credit: Chris Jackson/Getty images
Ending the epidemic for good
As Prince Harry continues the pioneering work his mother began, he wants to galvanise support for young people to break down barriers – such as a lack of youth-friendly health services – that are preventing them from knowing their HIV status and accessing life-saving treatment once and for all. Prince Harry and Sentebale are determined to advance the progress that has been made and to extend vital support and services to the most marginalised youth across southern Africa.
It is time for a new generation of leaders to step forward.
“It is time for a new generation of leaders to step forward,” concludes Prince Harry. “In helping young people fight HIV we would not just be ending this epidemic, we would change the direction of history for an entire generation.”
This commentary is taken from past engagements Prince Harry has undertaken with Sentebale. This is not new or exclusive content.