September 15, 2016 1:25 pm

Prince Harry secretly visits HIV hospital where Princess Diana helped break stigma

Prince Harry chats with staff as visits Burrell Street Sexual Health Clinic on July 14, 2016 in London, England. Prince Harry was visiting the clinic, run by Guy's and St Thomas NHS Foundation to promote the importance of getting tested for HIV and other STDs.

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Prince Harry made a private visit to Mildmay Mission Hospital in East London on Friday, which is the HIV hospital where his mother, Princess Diana, helped break down stigma surrounding the illness three decades ago.

In 1989, the Princess of Wales memorably shook hands without wearing gloves with an AIDS patient and kissed him on the cheek. At the time many were misinformed about how the disease was transmitted, and those infected often became pariahs. Her gesture was seen as a transformational move.

READ MORE: Prince Harry gets tested for HIV live on Facebook

“HIV does not make people dangerous to know,” Princess Diana was famously quoted. “You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it.”

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The Prince, who turns 32 on Thursday, visited the hospital after he returned from South Africa, where he was on the front lines of elephant conservation work, helping move 262 elephants to safety.

During the visit, which media weren’t invited to, Prince Harry was reportedly able to spend time talking with staff and patients about the disease. This was a follow-up to the public visit he made last December

“He had a chance to speak to the staff there for a bit longer,” a spokesman for the Prince of Wales told People. “He met with patients and spent some time learning a bit more about the work there. He is continuing to learn more about HIV as a virus, and he was able to talk to them about his work on testing, which he is very interested in.”

Juley Ayres, communications manager at Mildmay, told People, “Many of our patients feel afraid to disclose the fact that they are living with HIV because of stigma, and this can cause enormous anxiety. Stigma and discrimination is cited as one of the main reasons why people are reluctant to get tested, disclose their HIV status and take antiretroviral drugs.”

She went on to say, “As an organization, we are deeply impressed and heartened to witness the work Prince Harry is doing to break down stigma, encourage testing and raise HIV awareness. We feel privileged to be able to support this work in any way we can.”

When he was there last December, the royal remarked that he couldn’t believe how his mother, who died in 1997, had managed to come to Mildmay so often in secrecy. She visted 17 times and only three times were in an official capacity.

READ MORE: Princess Diana: looking back at her life on the anniversary of her death

Harry asked, “‘How on earth did she get away with sneaking in and out?'” He also added, “‘If only I could do that!'”

In July, the redhead publicly took an HIV test to encourage others to do the same.

Prince Harry then went on and spoke at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

“When my mother held the hand of a man dying of AIDS in an East London hospital, no one would have imagined that just over a quarter of a century later, treatment would exist that could see HIV-positive people live full, healthy, long lives,” he said. “It is time for us to step up and acknowledge that stigma and discrimination still act as the greatest barrier to us defeating the disease once and for all.”

For more information on HIV and AIDS, visit the Canadian AIDS Society.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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