By Brenda Cardin
Prince Harry attended the launch of a pop-up shop today (15 November) for the start of National HIV Testing Week.
The Prince of Wales is a long time supporter of charities helping to fight the spread, transmission and stigma surrounding HIV. Last year, he even recorded a Facebook live video getting a rapid HIV test.
He’s continued in his mother Princess Diana’s footsteps, who died 20 years ago. Diana is remembered as a pioneer for her charity work and was present at the opening of one of London’s first purpose-built HIV/AIDS ward at London’s Middlesex hospital.
This was at a time when there was great fear and panic around the virus.
Prince Harry accepted an award in her honor this year, surrounding this groundbreaking charity work. He said today: ‘In today’s world, you’re going to be celebrated and included more than ever before.’
The visit comes about after research revealing new HIV diagnoses are declining among gay and bisexual men in the UK for the first time since the epidemic began in the 80s.
Stats reveal 90% of people living with HIV infections are now diagnosed, 97% of people diagnosed are receiving treatment and 97% of those receiving treatment are virally suppressed.
‘I didn’t ever think I’d be HIV positive’ One of the people to meet Prince Harry today was 23-year-old Andrew Bates from Sunderland. He told The Gay Star News: ‘Harry is so lovely and so genuine. He’s such a nice guy, you could talk to him for hours.’
Prince Harry just wanted to have a casual conversation about Andrew’s life, including his coming out story and when he found out he was HIV positive. ‘Hopefully this spurs on more people to get tested,’ Bates said.
Bates was diagnosed two years ago and believes it’s important people know their status and get regular health checks. He said: ‘It was not on my radar at all – I didn’t ever think I would be HIV positive.‘When I first found out, it was upsetting. I was completely clueless and quite ignorant on it all,’ he said.
Bates caught HIV shortly before he met his current boyfriend, who is negative. They’re still together and Bates says he’s been supporting him every step of the way.
‘It’s great evidence because even though I’m positive, I can have a boyfriend who isn’t,’ he said. ‘Since being diagnosed… nothing’s really changed at all,’ he said. ‘I got bored of having the conversation about HIV’
Bates is doing a half marathon run to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust and to prove his HIV doesn’t stop him living a healthy life. It’s also a way for him to avoid having to come out to people over and over again about his status.
He said: ‘I got bored of having the conversation about HIV. ‘People always had this horrible, shocked reaction – thinking I’m going to die,’ he said. He wants to break down this stigma and educate people about living a healthy life with HIV. ‘Now I’m healthier than ever,’ he said.
Ian Green, CEO of Terrence Higgins Trust said: ‘It’s vital that we dispel the stigma that surrounds HIV-testing, and for people to recognize it as empowering.
‘We’re delighted that Prince Harry is attending the launch of our pop-up shop in Hackney, and we welcome his continued support of organizations that are fighting to end new HIV transmissions and the damaging stigma which continues to surround the virus,’ he said.
The pop-up shop is open 15 – 24 November, for people to come and take a free self-test home with them.