How Princess Diana helped end the stigma surrounding AIDS

DURING The height of the Aids crisis in 1987, Princess Diana was photographed shaking hands with an HIV-positive man, she showed in a single gesture that this was a condition needing our compassion and understanding, not our fear and ignorance.

Back in the Eighties, there were wide-spread rumors about the infection, mainly due to scientists being baffled by it.

The legislation and guidance originating from that era reflect this huge uncertainty. But HIV is now one of the most scrutinised of all viruses, its transmission, spread, management, treatment and prevention understood like no other. This knowledge has rendered many of the restrictions put in place 20 or more years ago based on what was known then, massively out of date.

There are around 100,000 people living with HIV in Britain. Around half of them are heterosexual, while 40 per cent are gay men and the remainder have contracted the virus through intravenous drug use or via mother-to-child transmission. They include lawyers, teachers, IT professionals, bankers, street sweepers, shop assistants, as well as doctors and dentists.

People who are HIV positive are everywhere in our community and still at risk of discrimination, based on misunderstanding and half-truths. HIV attracts ignorant opprobrium, hostility and vitriol like few other diseases.

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