World AIDS Day, commemorated every year on December 1st, brings people together from around the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic.

The theme for 2020 is Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility and the United Nations is calling on countries to step up their efforts to achieve healthier societies.

According to the World Health Organisation, in 2019 an estimated 38 million people were living with HIV, 1.7 million people were newly infected, 690,000 people died of HIV-related causes, and 68 percent of adults living with HIV received lifelong antiretroviral therapy.

Truly Belong World Aids Day
Image Credit: CDC

The virus was identified in 1984, and since then more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s World AIDS Day holds extra significance. Not since the HIV/AIDS pandemic have countries faced such a common health threat.  The global response to HIV/AIDS is an example of what can be achieved when the citizens of the world work together.

World AIDS Day in the Time of COVID-19

The world has made significant technological progress since the late 1990s, but HIV remains a significant global public health issue. Like other major health issues, it faces additional challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many countries across the globe have had to lockdown their citizens in response to the pandemic, and in turn, HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services have all been disrupted. The slowing down in provision of these essential services due to COVID-19 leaves many vulnerable populations at greater risk of HIV infection and AIDS-related deaths.

Read also: COVID-19’s Impact on the Environment: The Good and the Bad

How Princess Diana Changed Attitudes Towards AIDS

HIV/AIDS terrified the world during the mid-80s because of a lack of understanding and widespread misinformation. Those suffering from the virus faced discrimination and were shunned by their families and communities. 

During the 1980s and 1990s, Princess Diana supported various AIDS charities around the world by visiting facilities and spending time with healthcare workers and victims of the virus.

Truly Belong World Aids Day
Princess Diana shakes the hand of Ivan Cohen at Middlesex Hospital AIDS ward on April 9, 1987. London’s Middlesex Hospital invited Princess Diana to open the Broderip Ward, their first dedicated ward for AIDS and HIV-related diseases.
Image credit: Anwar Hussein Getty Images

Her visit to Harlem Hospital’s AIDS unit, New York, in 1989 has been revisited in season 4 of Netflix’s The Crown and has, yet again, become a hot topic on social media. Trailed by media, she was seen shaking hands of healthcare workers and those who had HIV/AIDS hands without gloves. It was this single gesture that showed the world that this was a condition needing compassion and understanding, not fear and ignorance. Diana publicly challenged the notion that HIV/Aids was passed from person to person by touch.

Princess Diana gave a speech at the Children and AIDS Conference in 1991 and encouraged people to give hugs and handshakes to those who had HIV/AIDS.

“Heaven knows they need it,” she said. “What’s more, you can share their homes, their workplaces, their playgrounds, and their toys.” She also addressed the fact that for many in affected populations, “AIDS is the last straw in an already heavy burden of discrimination and misfortune.”

Feature Image: Adobe Stock

Dominique Heusdens