The Duke of Sussex said his Africa-based charity had seen violence against women “skyrocket” and young people pointing out how their mental health had “deteriorated”.
Writing a foreword for his organization’s annual report with co-founder Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, Harry said during the pandemic “existing inequalities have either been accentuated or exacerbated”.
Their charity Sentebale works with vulnerable children and young people in the southern African countries of Lesotho, Seeiso’s homeland, and Botswana to ensure they have access to life-saving health services, especially treatment for HIV.
The princes also criticized the global rollout of the Covid vaccine for being ‘far too slow’, but said ‘fortunately’ inoculation rates were increasing in southern Africa.
Harry and Seeiso said: “The reality is that existing inequalities have either widened or exacerbated over the past two years. This has created a cumulative effect, as the Covid-19 and HIV pandemics are intrinsically linked in many ways.
“Parents and guardians have lost their jobs; young people cannot find work; the children have not been educated; gender-based violence has exploded and young people tell us that their mental health has deteriorated. Poverty is on the rise.
The report highlighted how in Lesotho, Sentebale peer educators worked with health professionals in several districts to test children and young people for HIV, referring nearly 3,500 people who tested positive to clinics to start treatment. .
They have also followed more than 1,300 children and young people living with HIV identified as having discontinued their medication, and now 85% have returned to treatment and care.
Sentebale staff also provided sexual health and rights education to nearly 27,000 children and young people.
Harry and Seeiso said in their foreword: “The global rollout of the vaccine has been far too slow and far too many people have been put at risk.
“Fortunately, vaccination rates in the Southern Africa region are increasing, but as many in the HIV advocacy community have known for decades, we cannot simply hope for a pandemic to go away. It takes resources, investment, ingenuity, leadership and access to solve a public health crisis.
“From these difficult times, we also learned valuable lessons. It showed us the potential for a new hybrid way of working, combining face-to-face and virtual programming, to help us reach many more children and of young people and to increase our capacity to provide individual support.
“As we look to the future, we strive to make the best use of technology to deliver our programs while continuing to make young people feel safe and empowered.”