Royal philanthropy in Lesotho

I’m thinking of starting an unofficial series called “things you didn’t expect to read about on a blog about AIDS.”  We’ve recently heard about Bob Dylan, soccer/football stars, and Antonio Banderas.  We now add . . . the British royal family.

Actually, this isn’t that surprising: Princess Diana was very involved with AIDS relief efforts.  Now her son, Prince Harry, is following in her footsteps.  According to recent articles from the BBC (here and here), Harry spent the past week helping to improve a special needs school in the tiny African country of Lesotho.  This was part of his ongoing work with Sentebale, an organization he co-founded with Lesotho’s Prince Seeiso to “help disadvantaged children in Lesotho and, particularly, the many thousands who have been orphaned by the country’s Aids epidemic.”

The stats indicate that Lesotho’s children need all the help they can get.

According to the BBC, “An estimated one-third of Lesotho’s 1.8 million population are HIV-positive.  Forty per cent of Lesotho’s children have lost one or both parents to Aids. And, most sobering of all, average life expectancy in Lesotho – which 20 years ago was 52 years – has now fallen to 34.”

This Associated Press article observes that “Many children are forced to leave school to look after younger siblings, and are open to abuse or exploitation.”

Again according to the BBC, Lesotho’s leaders “seem reluctant to recognize the scale” of the HIV/AIDS problem, “or to commit themselves fully to address it.”  The article goes on,

Their inertia is due to several factors, not least to a cultural reluctance which is evident across southern Africa to accept that a disease which is predominantly spread by sexual activity is causing such an immense problem.

 This touches on an important point: HIV/AIDS is often accompanied by denial.  Not surprising, when you consider the stigma so often – and so unfairly – attached to the illness.  But secrecy only makes the disease more deadly. 

In a sense, that’s part of what makes the princes’ efforts with Sentebale so significant.  When popular public figures engage the AIDS crisis, it sends a signal: the problem is there, it’s in the open, it’s something that no one should be afraid to address.  It also, of course, draws media attention to HIV/AIDS issues, which by virtue of their longevity can often disappear from the public eye for long periods.

In a sense, Prince Harry may be taking the often absurd amount of attention his family attracts and putting it to good use by drawing media coverage to the struggles of Lesotho’s orphans and vulnerable children.

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~ by h.e.g. on July 13, 2008.

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