Gareth Thomas could have sat back and enjoyed the easy life but that just is not how he is built, writes Paul Eddison.
Thomas, the former Wales, and British & Irish Lions rugby captain revealed he was living with HIV in 2019 and last year launched Tackle HIV, a campaign which aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV.
Every day Thomas takes a pill that stops the virus replicating in his body and allows him to live a perfectly normal life.
And yet a new survey has revealed that there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about HIV in society with fewer than one in five people realising that people with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass it onto their sexual partner.
It is for that reason that Thomas continues to campaign to tackle the stigma surrounding HIV.
He said: “The response has been really, really positive. But I think it is important that we revisit it, especially this year as it is the 40th anniversary of the first case of HIV which is coming up on June 5.
“The numbers on the survey show that people are talking more about HIV and having more of a conversation but not really understanding the finer points that create stigma or create misunderstanding around the subject. It is highlighted a few things but for me, I feel that one of them is that there are still fewer than one in five people think that people with HIV and on effective treatment cannot pass HIV on to their sexual partner. That is still quite a scary statistic for me.
“For me, it would have been a very easy and selfish thing to get my life in order, spoken about my HIV status and had a tap on the back for my bravery and put my feet up. I could have chilled out and got on with my life having created a great environment around me, but I don’t feel as a sportsperson or as a person in general that I have ever been that selfish.”
The science has progressed drastically since the 1980s and the terrifying adverts of tombstones on our televisions that equated HIV diagnosis to a death sentence.
And yet public awareness of that progress has not followed.
Nearly half the people surveyed said they would not consider taking a HIV test, and of those, 43% said it was because they were not at risk.
That is where the problem lies for Thomas.
He said: “The thing with that is the misconception of the people who are affected by living with HIV. It is not just gay men, or black African men or women. The reality is that half the people who are living with HIV in the UK are heterosexual, a third of them are women and half of them are white so even though we are having the conversation, we are not having the conversation around the facts. Because misunderstandings like this are still out there.
“I feel like we have started and been able to create a conversation and now it’s up to us to fill in the blanks on that conversation.”
Tackle HIV, a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. Visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv