How Princess Diana Pioneered AIDS Acceptance With a Simple Handshake

AP Photo/Herman Knippertz

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Similar to the way that the Charlie Sheen Effect changed many people’s views on finding out their HIV status, Princess Diana, known lovingly as the People’s Princess for her humanitarian work, did something similar for the world.

“AIDS Epidemic”

The AIDS virus first became known to the public in the early 1980s. Almost anyone who was diagnosed was immediately ostracized. There was not only paranoia about the diagnosis, but according to a 1986 poll over 50% of the surveyed adults were in favor of quarantining the population of people diagnosed with the virus. This may have largely stemmed from the misinformation regarding the “AIDS Epidemic”, HIV tests, and the HIV-positive status. For example, many people were under the impression that it was something that could be spread from everyday physical contact.

To combat this, Princess Diana wanted to educate people. The Princess of Wales oversaw the opening of the very first HIV/Aids unit exclusively for aids patients. When visiting patients at the Aids ward at the London Middlesex Hospital in April 1987, Princess Diana challenged the world’s negative perception of people with a positive HIV status and the rest of the world’s lack of humanity. To prove that Aids wasn’t spread from physical contact Princes Diana shook the hand of a man with AIDS without gloves and on national television. This moment was a turning point in the fight against HIV/Aids and further solidified her as a true leader and humanitarian.

The Iconic Handshake

Later, at a 1991 AIDS conference, Princess Diana spoke on the topic saying, “HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug,” She garnered a wide array of replies. A nurse working at the hospital told the BBC that if a member of the royal family could do it, anyone could. And anywhere, from the supermarket to the bus stop. This was exactly what Princess Diana was hoping for, to help people see the situation differently.

In regards to his mother and the infamous handshake, Prince Harry said that “she knew exactly what she was doing. She was using her position as Princess of Wales, the most famous woman in the world, to challenge everyone to educate themselves, to find their compassion, and to reach out to those who need help instead of pushing them away.”

After her death, Gavin Hart of the National AIDS Trust said in a statement to the BBC, stating, “In our opinion, Diana was the foremost ambassador for AIDS awareness on the planet and no one can fill her shoes in terms of the work she did.” The world may have lost the Princess of Wales too soon, but the legacy of her kind heart will live on forever.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 23, 2019.

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