Prince Harry: Youth need a voice

2016-07-22 10:09
Britain’s Prince Harry poses for a photograph with a group of young ambassadors at the 2016 International World Aids Conference in Durban.

Britain’s Prince Harry poses for a photograph with a group of young ambassadors at the 2016 International World Aids Conference in Durban. (AP)

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Pietermaritzburg - Sir Elton John and Prince Harry, along with a panel of distinguished activists, on Thursday declared war on the stigma faced by youth with HIV.

Harry, co-founder of Sentebale, an organisation founded with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho in 2006 to support orphans and children infected with HIV/Aids, was greeted with thunderous applause as he stepped up to the podium.

“Years ago, contracting HIV was a death sentence,” he said.

“The stigma surrounding those who were HIV positive kept them from being open about the disease and kept many from asking to be tested.

“Today, thanks to people like Nelson Mandela, Sir Elton John, and my mother Diana, things have changed. When my mother held the hand of dying man with Aids all those years ago, we would never have imagined that years later there would be treatments that help HIV positive people live full and happy lives.”

Harry said that the challenge those living with Aids faced now was complacency as focus had drifted away from the epidemic, funding had dropped and there was less of a sense of urgency when it came to Aids.

“Infection numbers are on the rise in adolescents and it is time for a new generation of leaders to step up and ensure that young children and adolescents who are positive, can play and be friends and are not treated differently among their communities.

“We have to acknowledge that the stigma surrounding those who are HIV positive is still the greatest barrier and we cannot beat this without giving the youth a voice, because without education and without empowering them, HIV will win.”

John said years ago he had had a serious drug and alcohol addiction and when he realised it was time to change his life, he knew he had to focus on helping those living with HIV.

He said the stigma surrounding the disease was atrocious and that Princess Diana, with “her heart of gold, changed the way the world saw Aids forever”.

John said although the world was seeing more and more babies being born HIV-free, the fight against the disease was “far from over”.

“We cannot tell the young people what to do, they have to make us listen and they have to have their own voice.

“Africa has grown in the shadow of Aids and although I will be 70 next year, I will continue to be the voice of Aids until I die, however, it is not the young people who will listen to me.

“It is Harry, with his mother’s passion, sense of responsibility and determination that will help in fighting this cause.”

Africaid Zvandiri representative Loyce Maturu, who lost both her parents to Aids and TB at the age of 10 and was diagnosed as HIV positive soon after, spoke about the psychological burden of testing positive.

“When I found out I was positive, I was depressed, I cried, I thought that I would end up dead like both of my parents but today I am living a full, healthy life, feeling beautiful and confident.

“It was a long journey for me, I suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of an uncle and took lots of pills. I wanted to die.”

She said after this experience, she received counselling and decided that she wanted to share her story and help others like her. “… love has the power to change all and with love in our hearts and with people listening and understanding, hopefully we can end the Aids crisis by 2030.”

Read more on:    aids2016  |  prince harry  |  elton john  |  pietermaritzburg  |  hiv aids  |  health

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