HIV awareness gets royal boost

Barbados’ HIV awareness thrust was given a double boost of royalty and celebrity power, when Prince Harry and megastar Rihanna toured the Man Aware display at Heroes’ Square this morning.

The event, conceptualized by the HIV Commission to get men more comfortable with idea of HIV testing, received widespread publicity as a result of the visit by the two well-known names.

Rihanna and Prince Harry visited the testing booth at the Man Aware display at Heroes’ Square this morning.
Rihanna and Prince Harry visited the testing booth at the Man Aware display at Heroes’ Square this morning.

They both visited the testing booth and got tested for HIV. They then toured the displays, which included a barbershop, motorbikes and games, much to the delight of the large crowd which gathered at the police guarded site.

There were no speeches about the importance of knowing one’s status. However, event organizer Fiona Weeks said the example set by the two celebrities spoke volumes.

“Having Prince Harry visit us is really a major thing for us because it says to the world that HIV is really an important issue. He asked to have a test today and he actually invited Rihanna to come with him as well and for us that is really proud moment,” Weeks said.

She added that those who witnessed the duo taking the test – something deemed to be scary and uncomfortable – were better able to see HIV testing as a purely life-saving necessity.

“Her being Barbadian as well adds to the programme,” Weeks said of Rihanna. “So when people see that persons like Prince Harry and Rihanna are willing to come forward and be tested in public, I think it should make it easier for every average Barbadian to come forward and say, ‘test me, let me know where I am with my status,’” she added.

Public Relations Officer of the HIV Commission Fabian Todd echoed Weeks’ sentiments, stating that Prince Harry’s example was an especially salient one for men, who usually shy away from getting tested.

Man Aware is a campaign which the commission started back in February. It seeks to get men to come together in an environment that is conducive to dialogue among men. Hence the reason we set up things like the barbershop . . . to get men to speak about things they wouldn’t usually say in the open.

“We are absolutely delighted to see that Prince Harry not only is touring the setup we have, but he has gone to get an HIV test. This is something that we find a lot of men shy away from being tested. We find that when we drop tent somewhere to do testing the lines have lots of women and to get men to come out is not as easy. So we are hoping that people seeing Prince Harry getting his test today would prompt them to come out and be tested as well,” Todd said.

Also weighing on the significance of the prince’s visit to the Man Aware showcase was Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett, who highlighted the strides Barbados has made in the fight against the spread of the virus.    

“We are delighted to have Prince Henry of Wales to add some prestige to what we are doing here this morning at Heroes Square,” Blackett said, referring to the prince by his official title.

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