Harry to take on mother's cause by making fight against HIV a priority

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Prince Harry is to follow in the footsteps of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales and make the fight against HIV a major part of his public work.

Harry is to speak at an international Aids conference in South Africa next month and will carry out other high profile events including meeting doctors and nurses caring for HIV-positive patients in South London and visit an innovative sexual health service.

His decision has been welcomed by HIV charities and organisations who have said his involvement with the issue will help shine a spotlight on the "epidemic" of people contracting the virus.

Diana was the first member of the royal family to have contact with a person suffering from HIV/Aids.

In the late 1980s when many still believed the disease could be contracted through casual contact, she sat on the sickbed of a man with Aids and held his hand.

Both publicly and privately she supported the work of those helping patients, with late-night trips to east London's Mildmay HIV hospice, and serving as patron of the NAT (National Aids Trust).

Harry's charity Sentebale already focuses on supporting HIV positive young people in the African nation of Lesotho but the prince now aims to spread the message to his generation that the fight against HIV/Aids has not yet been won, Kensington Palace has said.

The Prince hopes to convene leading figures in this sector and support their vital work in ensuring that everyone - and young people in particular - get the help they deserve, his office added.

Diana was the NAT's patron from 1991 until her death in 1997, supporting the policy and campaigning organisation which attempts to inform opinion.

Deborah Gold, the organisation's chief executive, said: "I think the focus on HIV in the UK has moved but it continues to be an issue with rising numbers every year - getting attention on that gets more and more difficult.

"I think Prince Harry really focuses on that and will help to draw attention to that. It's something he genuinely cares about and his charity Sentebale has been work with this for 10 years."

She described the numbers of people contracting the virus as an epidemic, with the latest figures from Public Health England showing in 2014 there were an estimated 103,700 people living with the disease in the UK, with 17% of these not aware of their infection.

In 2014 almost 85,500 people were accessing HIV treatment and care, more than double the number (41,157) in 2004, and a 5% increase on 2013.

Ian Green, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "We warmly welcome Prince Harry's commitment to helping tackle the HIV epidemic here in the UK, and look forward to working with His Royal Highness to tackle stigma, increase testing and prevent HIV transmission."

He added: "Incredible medical progress has been made in HIV treatment over the last 20 years, but attitudes and awareness of HIV haven't kept up with these advances.

"The devastating impact of HIV stigma cannot be underestimated - it is a well known barrier stopping people getting tested and onto effective treatment, as people fear reactions from friends, family, colleagues and their community, should they test positive."